Days 1 and 2: Exploring Cusco
After arriving in Cusco the previous night, I wanted to start my day by venturing around the city. I really loved my hotel, Tierra Viva Centro. The staff is so helpful and the hotel was super charming with accents of azul (Cusco in general is accented with Azul!) I was also warned of altitude sickness as Cusco is 11,150 ft above sea level. I noticed I was pretty fatigued and had head pressure for about the first 3 days before it went away. The hotel provided Coca tea which is supposed to help and I also bought the Coca candy to take along with me on excursions.
Once I was settled in, I walked over to Plaza De Armas which just blew me away. Perhaps I was in Asia too long, but this city is so damn charming with rolling hills filled of colorful homes. The architecture had quite a small European town feel and I absolutely loved it! I also felt very safe walking around as there are a lot of tourists and Policia roaming the streets at all hours. I walked over to the Cathedral, up and down streets, and all over to take really great pictures. Peru is honestly the most photogenic country I’ve been to thus far, it’s impossible to take a bad picture!
I was hungry and went over to Inka Grill (hotel’s recommendation) easily located on the plaza. Once there, I had to order ceviche and empanadas. The ceviche was delicious and filling, I love that lemon citrus they use to brighten up the dish. Empanadas in general are a huge favorite of mine and they were fried and cheesy (thank you lactaid pills). I also ordered a nice white tea to relax and enjoy my first full day in town. After eating, I explored some more and took many many pictures! Cusco, I think we’re on a good start!
The following day, I had made plans to go to Macchu Picchu with a travel agency that received great reviews on TripAdvisor. Note: Going to Macchu Picchu will cost you at least $300! This was by far the most expensive excursion I have done, but it’s A MUST! Well honestly, its not easy to get to– about a 2 hour car ride, an hour train ride, then a 30 minute bus ride to the top of the mountain. I also wanted a guide because there is so much history and they can really get into details you’ll most likely miss.
After forking over $300, I was recommended by my friend, Lauren to try an Alpacha burger and pisco sour! The hotel told me of a place on the square that serves great burgers. Upon arrival, the place was trendy and fun with great music (they played Radiohead!) I ordered my Alpacha burger y Pisco Sour! The Alpacha burger was good and came with a pickled slaw (I had to remove the red onions porque no me gusta raw onions!) The meat wasn’t as heavy as red meat, but not as light as turkey meat. It had an interesting after taste that I can’t really describe, but more like an exotic spice. The Pisco Sour was STRONG and I def could not finish although I tried really hard! Overall, a yummy new experience meal!
Fully stuffed, I walked over to Qurikancha, one of the Temples of the Sun. The structure was built as a square with an open plaza and a tower. You are not allowed to take photos of the old oil paintings, but you can walk around the structure to check out the exhibits. There was a Salvador Dali exhibit, Rooms exhibiting old Catholic pieces, and educational information on the Inca calendar and how they perceived the galaxy. All very interesting and fascinating. Qurikancha also offers really beautiful views of the city and has a museum as well. The museum was ok, about 6 rooms with historic pieces of Inca times. I liked how it was walkable and pretty central to the main town in Cusco as the other ruins requires a car.
I had to sleep early as my full day at Machu Picchu will start off with a 5:20am pickup!
Day 3: Full Day at the Chu
Ok it was time to wake up at 4am to get ready for the famous Machu Picchu. It’s on almost everyone’s bucket list and for me, I didn’t come to South America specifically for it. It was more like, “Ok I’ll be in South America, so might as well see the Chu!” Maybe because it’s everyone’s profile picture on social media, so perhaps I didn’t really care for it? Well, it was time to get ready and my driver, David was ready to pick me up bright and early. I made sure I brought enough snacks and water for my trip.
Ok, the drive over was a bit terrifying because you drive out of your comfort zone to the creepy areas outside of Cusco. I was reading this article about these group of friends that got attacked as they were car camping outside of Cusco. I get it– I ain’t car camping, but still I’m always on the cautious side being a solo female traveler. We were even stopped by the police and David had to give him some cash and then said something to me in Spanish which I interpreted as “The police always wants money.” Um what the hell was going to happen if he didn’t fork the cash or showed his ID? Would I have been confiscated?? UGH anxiety! David was nice though and we tried our very best to have a conversation in Spanish.
About 2 hours later, I arrive at the train station headed over to Aguas Caliente and it was COLD and drizzling. My dumb butt decided not to bring my rain jacket today (I’m usually so good at bringing it!) What the hell was I thinking? Now I have to buy a poncho if it starts getting out of control. The train, Inca Rail was one of the newer trains and super nice! They offer free warm beverages and the seats were quite comfy. The view was really beautiful, overlooking the river and the ride was not bumpy at all. Once we arrive to Aguas Caliente, my tour guide, Edgar was there to escort me to the bus that goes up to Machu Picchu!
Edgar was cool as he spoke perfect English. I was asking him if he’s been to Lima because I contemplated leaving Cusco a few days early to spend some time there. He said that he has family in Lima, but does not like it. I asked him why and he told me because he got robbed there! He was basically exiting the airport, took a cab, then the cab driver was driving in the opposite direction and he called him out on it. Then the cab driver took out a gun, pulled over, some dudes show up and robbed him! They even took his pants and shoes! Once he was stripped of his belongings, they ended up dropping him off close to his destination (at least that!) OMG the fact that he’s PERUVIAN and got robbed basically was the deciding factor that I am skipping Lima. No thank you Sir.
Ok we arrive at the main gate for Machu Picchu and it starts drizzling rain! I ended up buying one of those plastic ponchos just in case it decides to pour. Edgar was hopping the fog would clear up because I wouldn’t be able to see much if that was the case. UM $300 and I don’t see shit? I would of been PISSED!!! Our group was mostly Spanish speakers, so they left with one guide and Edgar told me he’ll give me a private tour in English because the English speaking group won’t be showing up until about 2 hours from now. Really nice of him and it was great learning so much about Machu Picchu. I had no idea it was discovered and made famous by an American (although local Peruvians already knew of it for quite sometime.) Machu Picchu was also abandoned by the Incas because they believe once the Spanish arrived to colonize, they heard of the news and left. It is believed that the Spanish never found out or saw Machu Picchu.
Edgar was going over the certain shapes of the structure (square, circular), correlations to the sun, what certain features was built for, the stones used, women and men (and how they were incorporated into the design. All very fascinating and I feel it’s worth it to hire a guide. When I was in Siem Reap, a part of me wish I hired a guide for the temple tours. I instead, had a book in tow and tried to educate myself. Edgar gave me a good overview of the city and had to leave to pick up the American group. He directed me on how to get to the top to check out the scenic overview and also to go on the optional hikes. I don’t know if its the elevation, but man going uphill is way harder than sea level!
Once at the top, I was a bit at awe and excited to take my Machu Picchu profile picture! haha THANK GOODNESS the weather listened to my frustrations because it no longer started raining and the fog started to clear up! YAY! I took a ton of pictures, then decided to take the Sun Gate hike up higher. OK, I was huffin and puffin! I don’t know if I was out of shape or it was because of the elevation, but it was a HARD climb up! LOL Once up, it was worth it and just taking in all the history was amazing. I made my way down and wanted to get in line for the bus early so I can have some lunch and explore Aguas Caliente more. Oh and I got my Machu Picchu stamp on my passport! I must admit, its pretty awesome filling up the pages on my passport =)
After the bus ride down, I went to have lunch (not so great place) and wish I had explored a bit deeper as there seemed to be better restaurants. I blame my hangry-ness because that hike was EXHAUSTING! After lunch, I explored the markets, bought a scarf, had some tea and waited for the train to arrive. On the train, I had the river view and it was beautiful! I met a nice family from Costa Rica and I told them I was just there! They were sweet to chat with and I even took some pictures for these 2 Brazilian ladies as I had the great river view! I really liked the train and of course the free refreshments (organic coffee was AMAZING!)
David was at the train station to pick me up and I was EXHAUSTED! But since the car ride in the morning scared the sh*t out of me, I forced myself to stay awake! The coffee was wearing off and I was sucking on some candy to not fall asleep! I didn’t want to wake up to be kidnapped by the policia somewhere random in Peru! UGH! The car ride was again about 2 hours and once we arrived at the hotel, I was SO RELIEVED! I gave David a good tip because its a pain driving 2 hours there and 2 hours back! Plus he got me there and back safely, so very grateful for that! At the hotel, Jhonathan, my travel agent was waiting for me and asked how my trip was. I wanted to book the Sacred Valley with him for Sunday as I wanted a day off tomorrow. He asked what I was doing Saturday night and he offered to take me around! I said yes as I am always wanting to make new friends!
Day 4: NOT a date
During the day, I went to as many museums as possible! I bought one of those city vouchers which gets you in to almost every attraction and ruin in Cusco. So it was like a mad dash to get as many hole punches to each of the attractions! First up was the Museo de Arte Popular. I was not really impressed with this museum. The first room was a bunch of pictures of Cusco, then the second room was a bit creepy with a lot of dolls and figurines. I didn’t want to stay that long because I was getting the heeby jeebies.
Next up was the Museo Historico Regional. This one was interesting as they had separate rooms with a ton of history. I noticed it was mostly Spanish influence through the Catholic paintings and sculptures to the royal furniture. Overall, a very nice museum with a lot of history from the Spanish conquest. Lastly, was the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo. The architecture of this building is gorgeous and sat on my favorite square in Cusco. I loved all the bright azul painted outside to compliment the fun contemporary art. Overall, I liked this museum the best from the 4 I visited total in Cusco (and I knocked them all out from my ticket!)
Before I headed back to the hotel, I ran into an H&M like shop called Top Top. I needed to buy more long sleeve sweaters and button down shirts. I was wearing my long sleeve denim shirt for days now and needed to give it a break! haha I ended up walking out with 2 plaid shirts and 3 sweaters. The fit of the shirts were great maybe because people in Cusco are usually short. I got back to the hotel, rested a bit and waited for Jhonathan to pick me up around 8:30pm to show me the night life in Cusco!
Ok so Jhonathan arrives and we walk over to Plaza De Armas to grab a drink. When I first met him, I noticed he had a ring on his marriage finger. Assuming he was married and was being nice since I was a client, I thought everything was perfectly innocent. He seemed adamant on going to a club, but I wasn’t sure as I needed to wake up early tomorrow morning for the Sacred Valley tour. We get to this one bar at the plaza which was like 3 stories. One story had a line dancing session going on and 2 had bars. We went into one of the bars as it was happy hour so I wanted to see what drink was special to Cusco. The waitress recommended the “Machu Picchu” which was a tricolored drink of sweet, bitter and a shot of headache! Jhonathan told me that I had to take my straw, start sipping from the bottom and move the straw up to the top to experience all 3 levels. No mixing was allowed. The drink was not good, probably a reflection of the night LOL
As we started chatting, I found out that Jhonathan was NOT married and he was single and ready to mingle. He kept asking me to go to a club with him and I really was not in the mood. His brother called him later and told Jhonathan to join him at this family party going on. I told him he should go and he said, “No I told my brother that I am on a date. Plus I want to be with you!” WTF this is a date?! Um no Sir it is not and I’d like to go home real soon! I told him again he should go because I wanted to head back early to sleep and he said “No I’ll only go if you come with me!” Um no I am not meeting your family and you’re acting like a stage 5 clinger! I tried really hard to finish up that nasty drink and Jhonathan wanted to order more and I told him that I didn’t want to drink anymore. He was asking how many drinks does it take to get me drunk and I said “well you’re not going to find out!” I wanted to leave the bar and even paid for the drinks for a quick exit!
When we were outside, Jhonathan kept saying that we should go to the club and he wants to drive us there. I was already weirded out because I thought tonight was supposed to be friendly, but I guess not. He would say stuff like “My car is parked in a dangerous area, come with me to get it.” UM NO WAY IN HELL I’M GETTING INSIDE A CAR WITH YOU. Then he would mention that he lives alone. UM DON’T CARE BC I AIN’T GOING HOME WITH YOU. Then he said he can cancel my trip tomorrow so I can stay out late tonight. HELL TO THE NO!!! Thank goodness we didn’t go far from my hotel and I started walking back. I told him I had a “novio” and he said he didn’t believe me. I then pulled up WhatsApp and showed him a pic of one of my friends in California and said he was my boyfriend. Then he was like “I don’t believe you.” I tried my best to bullshit the best effing boyfriend possible then he said, “Well does he know he’s lucky?” I’ll make sure to tell him when I meet him, thanks.
I get back to my hotel and all the doors were bolted up! I was like WTF is going on (it was almost midnight). I then found the doorbell and Jhonthan was like “don’t do that” and rung it. One of the staff members opened the door and I bolted in. “Thanks, had a nice time. BYE.” I remember going into bed and thinking “What the hell just happened? At least this will make a good story for the blog.”
Day 5: Sacred Valley
I woke up feeling gross from that nasty drink and Jhonathan’s persistence. *shudders I went to have breakfast at the hotel and drink some tea to make me feel better. My bus arrived around 8:15am to pick me up to go on a full day trip to the Sacred Valley (and thank goodness homeboy didn’t cancel my trip!) In the bus, there were a good mix of people: 2 college students from the University of Delaware, a middle aged couple from Denmark, a family from England and 3 girls in their 20’s from Scotland. Our tour guide, Enrique was really great. Honestly, from all the tour guides I’ve had so far, he was definitely one of my favorites. He introduced himself and let us all introduce ourselves since we’ll be together for the whole day and it was a nice ice breaker. Oh and it was Palm Sunday in the city, so what an awesome sight to see!
As we first entered the Sacred Valley, we made a stop at one of the local shops to use the banos. There were an alpaca family in the front (Papa, Mama and Baby) and I couldn’t resist to take a bunch of pictures with them! I also took a selfie with Papa Alpaca, then he closed his eyes, got up all close and puckered up! I started laughing hysterically! This guy.. trying to lay a wet one on me! Maybe if I kissed him he would turn into a hot, nice, successful guy! *crosses fingers* I mean, he’s got the aggression of Jhonathan, but helluva lot cuter so I don’t mind at all! hehe I then started chatting with the College girls, Rachel and Veronica and they are out here volunteering at the local villages for Med Life. I think its fantastic and they are both so adorable!
Now we are on our way to Pisac, one of the ruins in the Scared Valley. Enrique didn’t want us to waste our energy going up hill as he wanted us to save that for Ollantaytambo. We walked around, took some awesome pics then headed over toOllantaytambo. On our way there, we see a Cuy (guinea pig) stand and ask Enrique if we can stop by and try some! Enrique is so awesome and we stopped by and all decided to share one (they cut it up for us). I heard mixed review from friends– one said it was disgusting and another said it was good. In my opinion, it was pretty good and I enjoyed it! We also stopped by a market to do some shopping and try more local snacks. The empanada was ok and I didn’t try the maiz con queso bc I wanted to lay off the dairy.
We then headed over to lunch and the College girls, Rachel and Veronica would ask me what I was doing and if I was planning on going to lunch with the whole group or venture off. They are so cute, I really felt like their older sister! Rachel wants to be a Doctor and would love to go to Med School in California as her Uncle lives in Anaheim! Veronica is majoring in Biology and she still isn’t sure yet what profession she would like to be in. I had a really great time getting to know them and love the young ambition of youth!
We finally make it to Ollantaytambo and Enrique was such a great guide, but there was one questionable moment. He was basically talking about the ancestry of Peruvian people which traced back to China. He then said, “That’s why we have thick black hair and eyes like this (then he uses his fingers to slant his eyes).” I was thinking, “hold up bruh, that’s a pretty racist comment!” I don’t think they realize that, but even calling someone “Chinah, Chinita, Chinito” whatever is pretty racist. I’m really proud of my ethnicity, so I have to figure a way to let people in South America know that it’s crossing a fine line. I also noticed Enrique was really big on potatoes as he kept mentioning that Peru has hundreds of different potato varieties! It was kind of funny.
The trek up to Ollantaytambo was no joke. People would have to pull over for some breaks and now I understand why Enrique wanted us to save our energy to the top of the ruin. The ruin was gorgeous and loved looking at the different plains, but the sun was beaming at a bad angle for pictures which kind of sucked. From afar, you can see different ruins on the mountain tops which was pretty amazing. Arriving at the top, Enrique made us gather in a circle, give a congrats pat to your neighbor and wanted to thank us all for being a family for the day. Other than the non intentional racist comment, I really thought he was one of the best guides I’ve had and he had such a great energy to him.
On our way back to Cusco, we stopped by Chinchero to see the church and ruins there. We walk around and take some more awesome pics and then head back to the car. I chatted with the Scottish girls and they were great, one was telling me she was just in China previous to coming over to South America! She even made a stop back home in Scotland to repack! I really do love meeting other travelers and realize that I have crossed paths with many of them. Also on the way back, Enrique told me that he usually works as a guide for the 4 day Inka Trek up to Machu Picchu and the oldest client he had that did the trek was 77 years old! AMAZING! It’s NEVER too late to follow your dreams!
Day 6: City Tour
I received an email from Jhonathan apologizing about Saturday night and asked if I was interested in anymore tours since I’ll be here for about 2 days more. I had already booked a City Tour with the hotel for today and contemplated about booking another tour tomorrow with his company. The only problem was that I didn’t want to see him when he would pick up the payment. I really wanted to go to Moray and the Salt Flats and read that they usually do a private car transfer there which was expensive. I emailed Jhonathan back and asked him how much it would cost for a tour there and it was only $25 for a group tour and guide! UGH even though I didn’t want to see him, I booked that trip for the following day. I told him that I’ll leave the payment in a marked envelope with his full name at the hotel for him to pick up while I am out. Problem solved.
So today, I went on the City Tour to see the following ruins: Tambomachay, Q’enqo, Pukapukara and the famous Saqsayhuaman (which Enrique said that if you don’t visit, you haven’t been to Cusco!) The bus for this one was huge (I’m used to the smaller, more intimate group tours) with a ton of people from all over. They gave us headphones and a pack for the tour guide to speak directly to. Oh man and it started to rain like crazy! THANK GOODNESS I brought my rain jacket because it was on and off pouring all day! This poor man and his grandson just got off the plane and didn’t bring their rain coats! The tour guide was kind enough to let them borrow spare ponchos he had brought.
I felt like we had to speed through the ruins! I remember going into a cave at Q’enqo and the rain getting crazy at Tambomachay and Pukapukara. We spent the most time at Saqsayhuaman and I got caught up trekking away and taking some scenic pictures that I totally lost control of time! I looked around and saw NO ONE from my group and started running down towards all the people (assuming they were going into the bus). I thought, “If I miss the bus, then I can see if I can stag a ride from one of the other buses or those Americans I was chatting with at the top.” My heart was racing! I then started getting reception again from my pack and can hear the guide say, “Yanice, we are waiting for you!” LOL I jetting so fast over to the bus and thank goodness I made it! I’m sure people were giving me a glaring look for keeping them up. My bad! Being the last one on the bus soon becomes a recurring theme in my travels!
After the city tour, I went to grab some dinner and called it a night.
Day 7: Moray y Salinas de Maras
Final day of travel in Peru! I was so close to getting all the punches on my Cusco travel card, but 2 were left behind, Pikillacta and Tipon (till next time). Plus, these tours are not cheap! For today, I booked a half day tour to see Moray and the Salt Maras. Our guide’s name was Amadeo and he was fun with a ton of personality. Like Enrique, he wanted to go around the bus and have us all introduce ourselves. The tour was bi-lingual so there were people from other parts of South America as well as Central America. For our first stop, we headed over to the Salt Maras.
I was starting to get used to that drive up above Cusco, that goes through the Sacred Valley with the most stunning views. Enrique took us to some good spots to stop by and take pictures and Amadeo did that as well. We arrive at the Salt Maras and have to walk through a market in order to get there. On the way through the market, there were a ton of snacks and I bought these amazing homemade banana chips. They were seriously so good! The salt maras are basically a mountain of salt evaporation ponds in really cool rectangle and polygon shapes. After Amadeo gave us a history lesson, we were free to explore! I had to make sure I was checking time carefully because I didn’t want the bus to leave me. I took the long walk through the Maras and there were areas that you have to be careful as they are slippery and you don’t want to slip off the cliff! I took some really great pics and headed back. And of course I had to buy a little salt pack (the pink one is supposed to be the best) to take with me on my travels!
After going to the Salt Maras, we headed over to Moray. I chose to go here over the Tipon and Pikillacta trip because Moray is just so aesthetically interesting! The ruins are spiral shaped and it is uncertain why the Incas created these massive spiral shapes (possibly agriculture). I swear, I feel like the Incas are so mysterious.. they’ll build these amazing ruins then abandon them (mainly due to the Spanish invading Peru). We walked around the ruins and Amadeo gave us some really nice insights and there were these girls on the tour that seemed to be Geologists as they were talking about what stones are found out there. You cannot take a bad picture out here or in Peru. It is just not possible!
On the way back, it looked like we picked up some random musician that worked out there and needed a ride. He was sitting right in front of me and turned around (his face all close) and asked, “Where are you from?” I answered him (head reclining back as far as possible) then Amadeo jumped in and asked the dude,”Where are YOU from?” hahaha Amadeo said it was great that I was traveling by myself and will absolutely love Argentina. On the way back, we stopped by a local house and had a presentation on knitting and natural dyes (they would use anything from flowers and lemons to create natural dyes for the sheep yarn.) I bought a hat and a scarf because I know I’ll eventually need them when I head over to Patagonia in Argentina!
Overall, I knocked out 11 ruins/temples in the week I was in Cusco: Machu Picchu, Qurikancha, Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Tambomachay, Q’enqo, Pukapukara, Saqsayhuaman, Moray and Salt Maras! Feeling good!
Day 8: Hasta Luego Peru!
I hate taking early morning flights. They are the WORSE because you do not sleep and you have to leave anywhere between 2am to 3am. Plus taking cabs to the airport in the middle of the night gives me the biggest anxiety ever! NEVER AGAIN! Oh and I didn’t mention that I think Lima is the WORST AIRPORT ever because its so confusing (you have to go outside then in to check your bag back in and then you have to go upstairs for connections). I can see how people get robbed or tricked here. They seriously need to fix that, but thank goodness Cusco is opening an International Airport in the near future so no future poor soul has to connect out of the nightmare of Lima.
Cusco, you were fantastic and so so beautiful! Thanks for the memories!