When most people think of Peru, they think of Cusco and Machu Picchu. We were included in most people before we left, making Machu Picchu our original main attraction in Peru. Before we arrived we had no idea that there was so much more not only to Peru than Machu Picchu, but also much more to Cusco and the Sacred Valley where Machu Picchu lies.
Unfortunately the start to Cusco was probably the worst start we had to a city thus far. We took an overnight bus from Nazca, which was our third or fourth overnight bus. Although they haven’t been glamorous, they get you from point A to B and with 160° reclining seats and a little melatonin to help sleep, you can actually get a decent night of rest. Better yet though, overnight buses allow you to spend 12-20 hours on a bus without missing an entire day of exploring and they also save you the cost of a room for the night.
Except, I got hit with a little bit of food poisoning, motion sickness, and altitude sickness due to the change in altitude overnight all in one, and spent the entire bus ride running to the bathroom to throw up.
Tripple whammy for the win.
We learned our lesson to always carry our first aid kit in our hand luggage when we are on an overnight bus. I’ve also learned to take nausea medicine within the first 20 minutes of any lengthy bus ride if the driver is bad or roads or bumpy, no matter how good I’m feeling just to prevent this from happening again.
When we first got to Cusco we walked around to try and find some food because it was late in the afternoon and after throwing up dinner from the night before and skipping breakfast and lunch, I was pretty hungry. When I could barely walk a few blocks we realized that the biggest reason I got so sick was because of the altitude. I was having such a hard time walking and Jesse was starting to feel lightheaded too. We popped into the first place we saw, chugged down some coca tea and dinner to go.
Some light pasta, altitude medicine from the pharmacy, more coca tea and by evening I was ready to give the city a stroll. We walked up to the main square and stumbled upon a huge party in Plaza Mayor. The locals were celebrating Virgen de Asunta, but it looked less like the celebration of a virgin saint and more like Mardi Gras to me. There were dancing teams of young girls and mature women of different varieties and children’s marching bands and little kids acts. There even tribes of old men dressed up in outfits that belonged on St. Charles Street on Fat Tuesday. The men removed their masks and downed shots that friends or wives brought them in the street or pulled frequently from their pocket flasks while gallivanting around the square to music. It was a nice taste of home away from home.
(My pictures for this are only on my phone and struggling to download. Will try again later!)
The next day we spent the morning in the San Pedro Market in Cusco. It’s slightly overwhelming because the stalls are all very close to each other, but that didn’t stop us. When we walked in, we had the “menu of the day” lunch stalls to our left and the breakfast stalls to our right. We chose a breakfast stall all the way at the end and had custom chesse, fried egg, and avocado sandwiches fresh from the skillet. We enjoyed the company of a much older man from Lima who had just finished seeing Machu Picchu for the first time with his son and let him practice his English on us over breakfast.
For the next several hours we wandered the aisles of the market. There was everything from fruit, vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats, herbs, grains, powders, witchcraft items, San Pedro cacti, llama fetuses, souvenirs, flowers, and more. Jesse bought some maca negra, which is a natural energy enhancer. It’s quite expensive in the US, but cheap in Peru. I spent a while chit chatting with one of the fruit vendors, Dora, and she told me all about the different types of Peruvian fruit, which I of course purchased: granadia, lima dulce, pepino dulce, and churimoya.
Once we left the market we found a churro stall that was the mother ship of all churro stalls. They were huge and much fresher than the carts of churros that are wheeled around the city. We watched her dip the sticks of fresh rolled dough into the oil, fry them, and coat them with sugary goodness. Better yet, they had piping hot dulce de leche inside for an added bonus. They were so tasty in fact that we came back later that night for more.
I also bought my alpaca this day: both my alpaca to wear and to eat. Alpaca sweaters are all the rage with tourists in Peru and Bolivia and I had been eyeing them up everywhere, but hadn’t found the right one until Cusco, which is fitting because we also splurged on an alpaca sirloin meal to split. The alpaca wasn’t nearly as gamey as we anticipated. It was a closer taste to beef, but not quite as tender, however it had an edge of sweetness to it that paired perfectly with the sweet potato puree that accompanied it. Now the alpaca was good, but the smoothies that we ordered with it were the star of the show. We ordered one picante juice and one exotico juice and both blew us away. If you’re ever in Cusco you definitely need to eat at Peru UK. We weren’t crazy about the idea of splurging on a nice alpaca from a UK infusion restaurant, but it had the best menu for alpaca that we saw, and when we tried to make reservations twice they were booked for the evening so we settled on a late lunch and it was perfect.
Here are some shots from around Cusco during the day.
In the evening we went up to a statue overlooking the city to watch the sunset thanks to my best friend Ellen’s suggestion. We enjoyed beautiful panoramic views of Cusco as the night became alive.
Our next day began our run of day trips in the Sacred Valley.
Rainbow Mountain is a 3-4 hour drive each way from Cusco, so it was going to be an early morning. I had read loads of horror stories from multiple blogs about having to wake up at the crack of dawn only to have the bus be super late, so I was prepared for a chaotic morning.
We were told to be in front of a park statue at 4AM and we would get a reminder call at 3:50AM to let us know if they were running late at all. We didn’t get a call, but we didn’t want to be late so we left our Air BnB to arrive promptly at 4AM.
We hadn’t heard or seen anyone at 4:15AM, so we called the whatsapp number on our confirmation ticket. No answer.
4:30AM. We left another voicemail and a text message. Still nothing.
Jesse finally started walking up and down the street to search for our bus while I stayed at the bench in case the bus showed up there. He asked random buses if we were on their list and finally found “our bus.” So we hopped on it, but it quickly told us to get off and get on another bus, which we did and waited until 5:10AM to leave. This was pretty expected though from all of the stories I had read. As long as we were on a bus, we were happy.
When we pulled up to our breakfast spot 2 hours later though, a huge group had just arrived and sat down, so we had to stand around watching people eat for 30 minutes until there were seats.
All in all, the “tour” was about what I expected. Tour just means your transportation to and from a location in Peru most of the time. So where did we go again? Rainbow Mountain. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. The views on the drive and hike up to the top aren't too bad either.
During the tour we met this guy who told us about a 45 minute add on hike to Red Valley so we had to check it out. We walked up to Rainbow Mountain pretty quickly o we had enough time for this add on. We were shocked that we had the entire mountain to ourselves!
Most people caution about how hard this trek is, but we thought it was the easiest out of all the hikes in Peru. And we enjoyed it so much that we stayed a few minutes past when our tour guide told us to meet back at the bus. When we were the last people from our group back, the guide berated us and said “25 minutes late huh?”
I stared back and said, “you almost didn’t pick us up this morning, left an over an hour late, scheduled us to stand for 30 minutes until we could eat breakfast, so yes, we are late,” and he left it at that.