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Trip Report Trip Report: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

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My husband, 17 year-old son, and I just returned from our six day trip to Peru. We used Adventures Holiday Peru, which is owned by Vidal Jaquehua, who was our guide for most of the trip. Vidal made it his mission to make sure that our trip was exactly what we wanted it to be, and it was. He was extremely knowledgeable about all of the sites we visited and was able to answer any questions we had. Vidal is an expert in archaeology, art, history, botany, geography and sociology as they relate to Peru. In addition, he was very congenial, and we enjoyed every minute we spent with him and his staff. He consistently asked us if we were having fun or if there was something that we’d like to do. If I were to travel to South America to any of the countries that Adventures Holiday deals with, I would DEFINITELY use this company again.

We arrived to Cusco around 9:00 in the morning and were met by Vidal and his driver. Vidal’s son was with him since school was out due to a one-day strike by the farmers. I was struck throughout the trip by how loving Peruvians are to their children. We were constantly seeing parents hugging, kissing, holding, and adoring their children. It was really nice to see. During the ride to the hotel, we were able to see the city, and Vidal told us about the homes and the living situations of the people who live there. We arrived at Encantada Peru (which Vidal had recommended) and immediately fell in love with the place. It has a beautiful entranceway and the terrace gives an impressive view of the city. We had some coca tea (mild headaches for all of us is all the altitude sickness we had) and then went upstairs to refresh before we headed off to the city. I was really glad to stay in San Blas. It was just far enough away from the Plaza (it can be a bit much), but not too far away to walk. San Blas is lovely with all kinds of little artisan shops on the beautiful cobble stoned streets. It was a bit of a huff and puff to get to Encantada but totally worth it. Something I was unprepared for was the weather. The only people wearing short sleeves and shorts were the tourists. The locals know that it gets pretty cold there in the mornings and evenings; the afternoons are warmer but never really hot. Of course, this is their milder season.

Vidal took us to Qorikancha where we spent quite a while wandering around the inside and outside of this structure, a great way to start our tour of Cusco. Afterwards, we had a bite to eat at a café on the Plaza. The balcony at the café gave us a great view of the Plaza without having to constantly deal with people trying to sell you something (art, jewelry, shoe shines, and strangely enough—massages). A polite “No, gracias” is usually all that was necessary, although sometimes we did have to say it three or four times. I will admit that I totally fell for the spiel one young man had in which he named all of the US presidents back to Ronald Reagan until I heard the exact same speech a little later. Next we went to the Museo Inka and saw some pretty cool stuff, including a room with several Inca mummies (and a dog mummy!). Vidal let us wander around the city after that, and we fell victim to the “llama girls” who were unhappy with me when all I had was American dollars to give them after we took a picture with them (they did eventually take them, though). The picture was worth it. I wasn’t sure why they kept telling my husband “Rapido, amigo” until later Vidal told us people aren’t supposed to be trying to sell things to tourists and if they are caught by the security, they will be in trouble. By the way, there are a lot of security police out and about. I felt very safe the whole time.

The next day we headed down to Le Catedral where a mass was in service. We quietly wandered around to look at the paintings and statues. There were some pretty fascinating “floats” with representations of twelve saints around the main section of the cathedral—very ornate and elaborate. Vidal then took us to the outskirts of Cusco, where we visited the sites of Sacsayhuaman, Tembomachay, Qenko, Puca Pukara, and Salapunco. We walked back to Encantada from the last site and were able to walk through some neighborhoods. We love visiting the ruins and museums, but when we get to walk through where people really live and see how life exists in different countries and cultures, that’s when we feel most alive during our vacations. By the way, there are so many dogs wandering around the city, but Vidal assured us (and it seemed to be true from all that we saw) that they all “belonged” to someone. We wandered down to the Plaza for dinner at Inka Grill that night. It was our best meal on the vacation.

On day three we traveled to the Sacred Valley, stopping first at Pisac. Lots of cool stuff at these ruins: steep trails, cool structures, caves. The hike down from the ruins to the market left my legs pretty shaky. At the market, we paid a sole each to use the bathroom, ate some lunch, and made some purchases. We found that the jamon y queso sandwich with papa fritas is pretty good at any restaurant. Next we traveled to Moray and enjoyed seeing the “greenhouse” of the Incas. Another steep hike back up. Our final visit of the day was to Salineras de Maras (the salt pans). It was fun to see the ladies working their salt pans and the hike down to the village at the bottom was great. By the time we left here, it was getting pretty late, and when we arrived at Ollantaytambo it was completely dark. This is an unfortunate time to get to this town because when it’s dark, it’s really dark (being surrounded by mountains as it is), and the beauty of the town isn’t appreciated when you can’t see it!

Here we stayed at Pakaritampu, a lovely little hotel with beautifully landscaped grounds. They have some llamas that wander around here as well, which is kind of fun. The next day, Vidal met us early as to avoid the crowds at the ruins of Ollantaytambo. I really enjoyed these ruins and this town (in the daylight, the view of the surrounding mountains is pretty stunning). Afterwards, we told Vidal we wanted to just wander around the town by ourselves and possibly attempt a hike to Puma Marca. I had read about this as being a great day hike from Ollantaytambo so we were ready to give it a try. We headed along the river and aqueducts and soon found a road north out of town. We passed through a few villages and enjoyed the rushing water all along the way. After about an hour and a half we were unsure if we were headed in the right direction when we finally saw a sign to Puma Marca with an arrow pointing toward a little farming village. As we entered the village, a little boy quickly ran up to us and asked (in Spanish, he spoke no English) if we’d like him to guide us to the ruins. We agreed and were later very glad to have agreed because the hike was VERY steep and took us through some areas that didn’t look like they were trails (in fact at one point Richard, our guide, had to remove some sticks from a make-shift gate to let us through). My husband enjoyed practicing his basic Spanish on Richard and found out Richard was ten years old and that the dog following us was his dog, Chabo. Eventually we made it to the top (I was exhausted, but Richard didn’t seem to be tired at all), thanked Richard for his excellent guide service, paid him, and collapsed on the ground in the center of the ruins. We were the only ones there so the two guys went off and explored, and I literally did not move from my spot for the next hour and a half. It was an exquisite view and so serene that we all felt like the work had been worth it, and in the end, this was probably our favorite part of the whole trip.

We took a different trail back down which was much nicer than the road that we followed the way up. Along the way, we had the aqueducts to guide us again and we met up with some pigs and some puppies. It was absolutely beautiful. Back in Ollantaytambo, we explored some shops and the streets and just enjoyed the city.

The next morning we awoke at 4:20 since we had to be at the train (bus) station at 5:12 to go to Machu Picchu. The trains are still not leaving from Ollanta due to the rains so we had to catch a bus to the next train station at km 82. Vidal met us at the train station and showed us where to go so we had no trouble finding our way. The train ride was nice and the view from the windows on the top of the train was pretty impressive. Vidal was not able to guide us that day so Juan Jose, another excellent guide provided by Vidal’s company, met us at Aguas Caliente and we all rode the bus up to the ruins together. As everyone knows, the first view of Machu Picchu defies description. It is a truly awesome sight. After we departed from the bus and used the bathroom (these are run by the Sanctuary Lodge, and they cost one sole every time you use them), we headed up the stairs to the Guard House. Juan Jose took us all over the ruins and gave us tons of information and fun little stories about the ruins. Then he left us to wander around on our own. We ate lunch (exorbitantly priced at the little snack bar outside the gates—but we expected that) and then roamed around a bit more. Because of the train situation, we were not leaving until around 6:30 that evening, and I must be honest: we were very tired of Machu Picchu long before then. I think it felt a little bit like the Disney World of Peru, and with all of the people and the noise, it kind of lost its charm after a few hours. We found a shady spot where the llamas roamed and hung out for a couple of hours. We caught the bus back down to Aguas Caliente, shopped their market, ate dinner at Chez Maggy’s, and then had coffee and dessert at a cute little café on the square. By the time the train arrived to take us back to the buses, we were exhausted. Juan Jose met us back in Ollanta around 10:00 and we began the two-hour ride back to Cusco.

We again spent the night at Encantada. We awoke the next morning, ate breakfast in the hotel, and headed back down to the Plaza. Since we were leaving for the airport at 1:30, we just told Vidal that we would be on our own and entertain ourselves in Cusco. We visited MAP and enjoyed the exhibits there. After we left the museum, we headed to the square and saw a huge parade in progress. It went on for hours with lots of music and fun costumes. Juan Jose later told us that the parade happens EVERY Sunday. It was quite an amazing concept to think that they put that much effort into a procession like that every week! We had lunch at La Trattoria (there are an abundance of pizza and pasta places in Peru) and then headed back up to Encantada. Juan Jose met us right on time and took us to the airport to see us off.

In closing, my family thoroughly enjoyed this vacation. We felt like it was just exactly the right amount of time in each place. The local people were friendly and open, and the country is beautiful.

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