Our Trip to Peru: Sacred Valley Day 3

By day 3 of our trip we were feeling great! We did find ourselves way more winded than usual after a few flights of steps due to the higher elevation, but other than that we didn't suffer from altitude sickness.  We got up early to check out of our room in Cusco and make our way to the Sacred Valley.  We knew we wanted to find a colectivo to take us all the way to our hotel in the Sacred Valley's small town of Ollantaytambo.  A colectivo is basically a hired van that fits about 10-12 passengers (it won't leave until it's full) and makes a few stops along it's route.  The cost for a colectivo is significantly less than a private car.  The only problem was that everything I read was super vague about where to find them, although they all suggested and recommended them.  During dinner the night before we asked where to go to catch a colectivo and were given two cross streets that were about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  

So, Saturday morning we took off in that direction. Not really knowing what we'd find, I was hoping for a sort of bus staging area or even a bus station. Boy was I wrong!  First off, the walk took way longer than 10 minutes with our big backpacks and steep streets.  Then, when found the cross-streets there was no actual sign or building, just a bunch of vans and cars parked alongside the road, so we assumed we were in the right area.  Either the drivers or their assistants were walking up and down the sidewalks asking you to come with them, where were you going, practically taking our backpacks off our backs to get us on their vehicle and not the next guys.  It was very overwhelming for me and I speak fluent Spanish.  I can't image how it must feel if you don't speak the language.  So, just be prepared to be bombarded by drivers! We found a van that wasn't full yet, ensured the negotiated rate, and sat inside.  We got 2 seats that were together and by a window, YAY! It didn't take long to fill the van and off we went.  Most were locals from Cusco traveling to the Sacred Valley, but there were a few other tourists like us.

Once we made it to the town, we dropped off our luggage, found a place to eat in the small plaza, then it was off to find another van to drive us to the sights.  Again, we didn't know exactly how we'd find a driver, as we weren't part of any actual "tour group".  But, drivers could figure out we were looking for a car, so they mostly came to us to try to negotiate a rate.  This is how we found our driver for the day.  He was looking for 2-4 other passengers to fill his van.  We negotiated our rate (always negotiate beforehand) and off we went for our adventure through the Sacred Valley.  We shared the van with 2 other guys and along our stops picked up another person.  Keep in mind that doing it this way, saves you money but it is not a tour and the driver is not a tour guide! He takes you to your stop, parks, and we settle on a time to come back to meet up at the van and go to the next stop.  Totally no frills and this is how we like. We aren't big on waking with big groups of strangers and following someone around.  We prefer to do our research beforehand and have the freedom to go explore the sights ourselves.    If you want a tour guide, you can definitely make arrangements in Cusco or in the towns of the Sacred Valley.

Our first stop was the ruins of Moray just outside the village of Maras.  This place was so impressive!  There are several terraced circular depressions, the largest is about 98 ft deep.  Although the exact purpose of the site is unknown, like most Incan ruins, it's believed to have been a sort of agricultural test lab.  Due to the circular shape and depth of the terraces, they could study who different temperatures, wind, and sun direction, affected the crops and they were even able to create various types of potatoes! 

Our second stop was the Salineras de Maras, salt mines located along the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain.   There are nearly 3,000 salt pans, shallow pools that are filled by a hypersaline underground spring.  It is believed these salt mines have been around since before Incan times and are still active and hand-harvested by local families to this day.  We even saw some men tending to their plot.  This was my favorite from all the sites we saw in the Sacred Valley and of course, we brought some salts with us! I loved that we could walk on the edge and get up close to the pans, careful not to disturb them of course :) 

The next stop was at a local artisan shop where we learned how the alpaca wool was cleaned, dyed, and turned into beautiful blankets and scarves using ancient techniques.  I'm sure the ones we purchased were not made this way, of course! But they were still beautiful and made great souvenirs to bring back home.  

Our final stop was to Chinchero, a small town with more ancient ruins, terraces, and a adobe church built by the Spaniards in the 1600s.  As you can imagine, by this point we were exhausted from our long day of traveling and sight-seeing! The views from the hillside were beautiful, but we were pretty much done!  After grabbing some snacks from a vendor, we made our way to find a bus to take us back to Ollantaytambo.  And so began another adventure in public transportation! The sun was about to set, we were cranky, hungry, and tired at this point and just wanted to get back to town to rest.  We managed to figure out which bus to get on, but it only was taking us as far as Urubamba, from there we had to figure out what to do. By the time we arrived at the bus station it was dark and we weren't sure what to do.  I asked and was pointed to the side of the station I needed to be in to catch a bus to Ollantaytambo.  We ended up in a small van cramped with too many people.  We were the only tourists in the van but we didn't care.  The ride took a lot longer due to the many stops along the way but we finally made it and couldn't have been happier for the fresh air!

Once we were back in Ollantaytambo we found a small restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a nice! After we picked up some waters and snacks for Machu Picchu the next day, then took some much needed showers back in our room and got to bed! I was so excited to finally be heading to Machu Picchu the next day.  Stay tuned....

Our Trip to Peru: Cusco Day 2

Our second day in Cusco was jam packed.   The day was unseasonably warm and sunny!  We actually had amazing weather the entire week we were there, no rain at all! Considering we went during rainy season, we really made out great! 

After breakfast, which was provided by the hotel, we went out to purchase our Beleto Turistico.  It's basically like a CityPass here in the states.  You pay one fee and it includes admission for a lot of the archeological sites and attractions in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley.  Once we got our ticket we started our walk to Sacsayhuama citadel.  It was not a very long walk, maybe about a mile from the city center, but it was a very steep walk uphill and there were lots of stairs.  Thank goodness for coca leaves, which helped with the altitude sickness!  

Once there we were greeted by the impressive Incan construction and massive walls!  It was also here we stalked some poor llamas for selfies and I even got to hold a baby llama - cuteness overload!!! *Be sure to tip the women with the llamas for the photo :) 

After a couple of hours at Sacsayhuama we took a taxi to Tambomachay, another archeological Inca site.  This one was not as impressive as the fortress of Sacsayhuama but it had interesting water ducts and waterfalls. More of the impressive Incan architecture.  We were pretty hot, hungry, and tired at this point so we took a local bus (quite the adventure!) back into Cusco.  Unfortunately, we got off too early and ended up walking a lot more than we expected and maybe got a little bit lost but we found our way back to our hotel thanks to the awesome app CityMaps2Go.  This app was super helpful during our entire trip.  You can download the maps ahead of time, so it'll work even without an internet connection.  WIN!! 

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After lunch we went back to our hotel room to rest up and freshen up for the evening.  We walked around and did some shopping, visited the Coricancha museum and then got kicked off the grass. But, not before we took our selfie :)

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After that and a stop at Starbucks, we grabbed a bite to eat and then made our way to the Museo Del Pisco Bar.  We tried a variety of piscos, which to my surpise are made from grapes like wine, but taste more like tequila! There was a live band playing everything from Bob Marley to local Peruvian songs.  It was such a perfect way to end our night!  I didn't want to leave, but we had to get up early the next day to make our way to the Sacred Valley.  We're getting closer to the main part of our trip: Machu Picchu! 

Our Trip to Peru: Cusco Day 1

Back in November of 2016, Jason and I took an epic trip to Peru as part of our 20th wedding anniversary celebration (our anniversary is Aug 28th).  The trip was pretty impromptu for me, as I like to plan way ahead and we only had about 4 months to plan once we decided to go for it!  Visiting Machu Picchu had been on my bucket list for a few years now, so when Jason suggested we take a trip there instead of remodeling the bathroom, he did not have to ask me twice!  Planning a trip to South America definitely had it's challenges and there were plenty of things we just had to figure out once we got there.  But with doing tons of research, some major planning, and with tips from a friend who had recently gone, we were able to plan a great trip! 

I've been wanting to blog about this trip for a long time now, but I've had a hard time figuring out how to get started.  There is SOOO much I want to share, from all the planning that was involved, tips for altitude sickness, to how and what we packed! Ultimately though I've decided to begin by breaking it down into 5 parts, each highlighting the main areas we visited in Peru: Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Piccho, and Lima.  This way the posts won't be too long and boring.  Plus, I plan to share more details as mentioned above in a later series with tips and tricks for traveling to Peru, but for now, here is part 1 of our Peru adventure: Cusco Day 1! 

It's important to note that there are no direct International flights into Cusco.  We flew out on a Wednesday from Las Vegas to Lima, with a layover in Dallas and then took a domestic flight into Cusco.  I knew I didn't want to spend too much time in Lima, so I planned our flight out of Lima just a few hours from our arrival. We had plenty of time to grab our luggage, take a bathroom break, purchase some water and snacks, then head on over to the departure gate.  We took the short 1 hour flight and arrived in Cusco early morning (local time) on Thursday.  Knowing that we would be tired from a full day of traveling and that we would have to work on acclimating to the higher elevation, we took it easy this first day.  The original plan was to purchase our train tickets from PeruRail for Machu Picchu at the airport when we arrived in Cusco, but their computers were down so, we had to go to their office at the main plaza in Cusco.  We took a taxi from the airport and dropped off our luggage at our hotel, since it was too early to check in when we arrived.  Since I already had our entrance tickets for Mach Picchu for that Sunday,I was anxious to ensure I had our train tickets securely purchased for the date and times we needed.  Can see why I was anxious?!?

Here's the hubs at the entrance to our hotel when we arrived at Cusco. I loved the courtyard and we had the cutest room! 

Here's the hubs at the entrance to our hotel when we arrived at Cusco. I loved the courtyard and we had the cutest room! 

On our way from the airport to our hotel, we noticed a lot of traffic.  Although traffic is common in Cusco, this was more than usual and our driver explained that streets were being closed off for a sort of parade.  Turns out, the primary schools of the entire town were out and students were dressed in traditional Peruvian dance costumes and were lining up on the streets waiting for their turn to perform in the main plaza, Plaza de Armas, for their graduation.  The party-like atmosphere was a great welcome to Cusco and we just loved the bright colors and music!  I was still pretty anxious though, so I couldn't enjoy it too much until we finally made it to the office and we purchased the tickets.  We'd spotted a Starbucks in the plaza (the only one in the city) that promised WiFi so clearly that was our next stop! We got some much needed coffees and enjoyed the scenery from the second story window. At this point, with our train seats secure on the date and times we wanted, I felt like the vacation was finally beginning.  

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Not a bad view from Starbucks, huh?

We ate lunch at a highly recommended sandwich shop called Pankracio and then made it back to our hotel to freshen up, take a nap, and get ready for dinner.  We walked around and checked out some artisan shops and took in the sights before making our way to the dinner restaurant. Again, we based our dinner choice off of a recommendation, Marcelo Batata, and again it did not disappoint.  Jason chose to be adventurous and ate alpaca steak (YOLO) I stuck to foods I knew, like empanadas and salad.  The food and service were delicious and I had my first pisco sour of many more to come! 

After dinner, we went to our room to rest up! We had a busy day and although we prepared as best we could for the altitude sickness, we both got slight headaches and felt super tired!  We knew rest is what we needed because I had lots planned for the days ahead.  Our next day in Cusco will consist of getting up close and personal with llamas, checking out Sacsayhuama (pronounced Sexy Woman), getting slightly lost, and drinking more pisco sours.  Don't miss it! 

Have you been to Peru or any other country in South America? What's your favorite memory from there?