Exploring Cusco and the Sacred Valley
June 1, 2019
by Aleksandra Haliciu
Peru is one of those countries where it is easy to arrive but difficult to leave behind. It is here where I gave fuel to my passion to explore, travel and stay – participate in the everyday life of the people, discover them, the food, breath the air and eventually understand the place better. I have roughly spent seven months full of excitement, sparkling vistas, nourishing delicious food and soul-stirring moments. Mostly renowned for the Inca sites, and of course, Machu-Picchu – Peru has so much more to offer than that. And once you step on its lands, I guarantee you will want to return.
As an overview of things to do in Peru – there is Lima, the colonial capital par excellence, which has a lot to offer and lots of alternatives in terms of entertainment, food and natural beauty. Then, there is the jungle – the Amazon – and its many indigenous people and languages, that I assure you, could be a separate topic altogether. Then, as you go down towards the south and along the coastline, you find loads of places that enchant your soul – from Paracas to Nazca * and the very famous Nazca lines* – from Nazca to Arequipa * and the must do Colca Canyon trek and world-renowned condors – and definitely Puno, where you can take tours to the Islas Flotantes de los Uros, on the Lake Titicaca, home of one of the most captivating indigenous population in Peru. Then, eventually, you can even cross the border to Bolivia via Copacabana – the border control is not at all complicated – and there are various bus companies that you could opt for. It is worth it totally and if you are pressured by the time I recommend you have a short stay in Copacabana and go to Isla del Sol instead and spend the night there as it is completely stunning!
On the footsteps of the Inca
Cusco was such a big surprise for me! If you haven’t gone to Machu Picchu – you should book the trail in advance ( in case you like hiking); if that is not the case, you can also go by train and even here you have several options and prices which again you should check in advance. You would be surprised by the number of tourists visiting the site. I have taken the train *the budget option* and it was wonderful the same – as I was late in booking the trail. Initially, I was decided not to spend too much time here since I thought it will be too touristic for my taste. Of course – I ended up staying a bit more than a month, booked a bed at a cosy hostel in San Blas – the artisan quarter of the city – and of course, made friends and enjoyed life as best as I could. Definitely a memorable time. In the meantime, I would travel every now and then to the Sacred Valley and gradually fell in love with this little village called Calca, where I ended up staying for ten days.
Cusco and the Sacred Valley
I bought the Boleto Turistico del Cusco – which by the way – gives you access to fifteen key historical sites around and in the city. I have to say that I have never seen and such a big amount of ruins in such a short time in my life ( and climbed those giant steps). However, it was totally worth it. Out of all, I suggest you put down on your list at least the historical sites at Pisac (should check out the Sunday market too), Ollantaytambo and Chinchero – all of them easily accessible by minibuses (or combis – as they are called among the locals). Then, there is Sacsayhuaman, which is overlooking the city and offers great sunset views. If you want to explore a bit more the countryside or get out of the city for a while, I suggest you check out Pisac, which is a cosy village that still offers the comfort of a small foreign community – lots of hostels, hippie cafes and generally a welcoming vibe, where you could actually spend at least a week.
Without a doubt, Peru has a world-renowned cuisine and you can actually ‘taste’ it yourself even in the most hidden villages while strolling in the market! The variety of potatoes reaches 3800, corn is at its home and there is a lot to offer for meat-eaters (must try the roasted guinea pig called ‘cuy’ while you are in Cusco) as well as for those of you that are vegan. There is such a huge diversity of fruits and vegetables and you can expect to not even know what you are eating- one of my favourites is ‘lucuma’, cultivated only in Peru and Ecuador. Then, of course, there is ceviche and prepare to lick your fingers! This is a typical dish mostly found in the coastal cities – it is basically based on raw seafood or fish with corn and sweet potatoes on the side! Now, if that was not convincing enough, you should at least try their tamales and humitas – snacks which are even sold in the buses!
Peru is a treasure of a country- even today after years and years of exploitation. The contrast between the rich and the poor is really noticeable that is why also the rate of criminality is quite high. However, besides being super attentive at your belongings and travel light – I would suggest you take your time and explore it in depth. Its culture, millennial historical places, architecture and arts, music and folklore, nature and fauna – it has so much to offer! There is always something more to discover, and its luxuriant nature and welcoming people will always make you want to come back.