Hi everyone! This is a long time coming but I really wanted to share our experiences traveling to Cusco Peru for our honeymoon in July.
Top 5 experiences in Peru:
- Hiking Machu Picchu
- Visiting Maras/Moray
- Cusco Culture Day tour – Shops and Restaurants
- Staying at Esplendor Cusco
- Booking our expedition with Alpaca Expeditions
It has always been a top priority to explore South America for 2018 since I had never stepped foot on the continent. Over the past years, I’ve grown fond of hiking and the outdoors so I really wanted to add Machu Picchu to our accomplishments. Since our visit to Peru would be mostly centered around visiting this world wonder, I prioritized finding the best tour company. My main concerns were cost, ratings, and vegetarian options – Nelli has always wanted to go to South America but was nervous about their meat-centered cuisines. I researched many tour companies online through trip advisor and blogs (thank you Snazzy Mom!) and I ultimately settled on Alpaca Expeditions. I’m very happy with my choice – our hiking group was small (5 people), affordable ($550pp), great ratings, extremely knowledgeable/fun tour guide, and had veg options. There was one lunch rice item that had hot dog slices in it which frustrated Nelli but he said overall he would recommend them.
Before we went on our hike we had a chance to explore the city – most blogs recommend coming to Cusco a few days before to get accustomed to the altitude. We highly recommend taking Diamox (altitude sickness) pills every day while in the city. Even with the pills, when talking a tour around Cusco I felt my chest tighten going up stairs and Nelli got a little nauseous when we were in the San Pedro farmers market. I highly recommend visiting this farmers market but for vegans/vegetarians don’t go near the meat portion – Cusco is famous for their cured (heavily salted and air dired) meats. For souvenirs, I would highly recommend the San Blas Arts district, this is where you can find high quality alpaca textiles and souvenirs. Please don’t be sticker shocked and invest in a quality piece while in Cusco…I hesitated buying something and then changed my mind at the airport and bought an alpaca hat – it was a well known, high quality fashion store but I wish I had bought from a local retailer. One souvenir that I did buy in San Blas were Pucaras. Pucaras are two bulls that a newly married couple buys to bring good fortune to their marriage – you will see a lot of Pucaras on top of houses in Cusco. It was fascinating to see the clash of Spanish colonialism and the effort to reclaim the ancient Incan culture. I loved the fact that it is a university requirement to learn Quechua, the ancient language that Cusco is trying to preserve even though most people speak Spanish. We also received great restaurant recommendations from our city tour guide, some off the beaten path and some more touristy – I would really recommend La Feria. We sat on the balcony and had a great view of the main town square Plaza De Armas while sipping Inca kola.
Our accommodations for our city stay were Esplendor Cusco, a small cute boutique hotel that I would recommend everyone to stay at. Esplendor has a convenient location right next to the San Pedro Farmers Market, great breakfast every day, easy to book tours, and nice/modern amenities and architecture. We booked a tour through our hotel to see three popular locations: Maras, Chincheros and Moray. This was our first time exploring the ancient Incan culture and it was absolutely jaw-dropping. Maras is famous for it’s salt mines, each pond passed down from generation to generation to harvest and sell salt. Since salt water comes from the ocean, Maras was once an ocean, it’s crazy to think how the geography can change over centuries. Maras has intricate channels that funnel salt water on demand, this place is highly advanced and was built in AD200-AD900! I was further mystified when we went to Moray – I quickly learned that the Incas were true engineers. Moray are concentric circles inscribed into the lands of the Sacred Valley. Each circle represents a different altitude and soil type – the Incas loved to experiment with these variables to develop the best crop. I honestly loved learning these techniques more than visiting the sites themselves. Our last visit was the Chinchero district which is famous for the textiles market. The ladies that wear the traditional red and black outfits are from this area. We learned how they use natural fruits and vegetables to dye alpaca fur and we also learned that guinea pigs are a main staple in their diet (random!). My recommendation is try to buy something and again don’t be sticker shocked – they take visa haha!
Knowing how talented the Incas were – we were more than excited to embark on our 2D/1N Inca Trail. There are many trails in Machu Picchu but the Inca trail is the most famous and has the option to do it over 5 days or 2 days. If you would like to do the full 5 day Inca trail you will have to book at least 6 months in advance as it gets sold out very quickly. We bought our 2 day Inca trail within 1-2 months and there were still plenty of spots. The Inca Trail is so famous and important because it is the same path that the Incas used to travel to get to Machu Picchu. Along the way, you will see many important villages that the Incas would stop in to rest, eat, worship, and relax such as Wiñaywayna. There are also fantastic views of the Andes Mountains such as the Sun Gate and finally Machu Picchu. It’s really hard to describe Machu Picchu in a blog post, the architecture is breathtaking and its’ honestly hard to believe the giant slabs of stone were used to construct the site without using wheels. All I can say is VISIT!
The ancient Incas were deeply spiritual and nature plays a pivotal part in their religion. I will leave this post with my favorite Peruvian cultural tidbit – Cusco’s flag represents a rainbow which Incan people believed to be half of a circle, the rainbow representing life on earth and the other circle half representing life after death. It’s a reminder to me that our time spent on earth is fleeting, rare, and beautiful – take advantage of each day 🙂