Peru: Alpaca My Bags
The Salktantay trek is a magical way to experience Peru. The landscape and terrain is a reason to visit the country on it's own, add in the Incan ancestors and current Peruvian culture and you have a plethora of reasons to visit and experiences to plan. The Salkantay trek begins in the mountains, continues through the Salkanatay pass and ends in the rainforest at Macchu Picchu. The trek is a great way to plan your trip, starting in cusco and ending in the Sacred Valley. If you have a 9-5 and can only take a limited amount of time off work, it's a great 8-10 day trip that you can do over two weekends and a work week. In Cusco you should give yourself about two or three days to become acclimated to the altitude. On the trek you hike up to an elevation of 4100 meters at the top of the glacier pass below the sacred mountain. The surrounding landscape throughout the hike is incredible, walking through lush green valleys, along paths lines with moss covered rocks, rippling ice cold streams, local horses running wild and the mountains as the backdrop to it all. The back half of the trek is in the deep jungle, with cool waterfalls, dust ridden paths, tropical fruits and plants, and lush green vegetation everywhere you look.
C U S C O
The best place for great food in a romantic setting is Cicciolina . With the wrought iron details, long selection of wines, and an extremely popular chef's choice appetizer selection you will feel right at home in this warmly lit and cozy spot. Be prepared to wait since it's quite a popular spot among locals as well and make sure to sit in the bar area so you are amongst the action. Sit near an open window that looks out onto a busy pedestrian street and revel in the Cusco evening. You must order the trout ceviche, it's to die for!
Meg's Gem: L'Atelier is a cute spot in the hillside area of San Blas. They sell alpaca sweaters, vintage purses and there's a cute cafe with high top table in front of a window overlooking Cusco.
Best experience for adventurous foodies is a dinner at Pachapapa off the main square in San Blas. Make sure to stop by or give them a call to make a reservation and put a guinea pig on hold!
For a quick lunch and shopping head to Mercado San Pedro and wander the stalls filled with kitschy peruvian goods. There's also an entire fresh juice section where Peruvian locals will blend up a fresh fruit juice with your choice of ingredients!
Incanto near the Plaza de Armas has a great selection, the food is fresh and their pisco sours are awesome! A great place to go if you need a change from Peruvian cuisine.
The sister restaraunt to Cicciolina, Baco is a lovely place to cozy up for a few hours of eating and drinking. It's inviting, warm and the staff are friendly and patient. They have a lovely selection of appetizers and wine and is a great place to hide if it's cold and rainy.
La Rabona is a cute little sandwich shop we stumbled upon on a side street. Great to have a bite, grab a coffee or get a sandwich to go.
Main Historial Sites:
In Incan Times the Qorikancha was the most important temple of the Incan Empire. It was dedicated to the sun god and was covered in gold. There was also another part of the temple dedicated to the moon and covered in silver.
Plaza de Armas is the main square. Walk up to the upper level of the Iglesias de la Compania Jesus for great views of La Catedral. Sneak a peak inside the main Cathedral in the mornings during mass.
Outside of the city is an incredible Incan ruin called Sacsayhuaman (Sexy Woman to witty locals), it's definitely worth the hike up there or you can grab a cab.
S A L K A N T A Y T R E K
I don't want to reveal too much about the trek because a part of the adventure is not knowing exactly what you're getting yourself into. The trek starts in Cusco and a bus picks you up at 5:00 am from your hotel/hostel. I'll only tell you that there is the option to zip line over the rainforest, you visit hot springs and there is Cusqueno beer to buy at little shops along the trail! I had the BEST experience and would highly recommend booking through the same company. if you're interested in booking the same trek you can read more about it here.
S A C R E D V A L L E Y
After the Salkantay trek, the train will drop you off in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Skip the bus to Cusco and stay for a few nights along the Urubumba river. We stayed at the amazing Tambo Del Inka resort and spa. We relaxed, got massages and ordered room service fully indulging and treating ourselves after the long trek.
The Sacred Valley is an interesting area, filled with small, poverty ridden towns scattered between many of the Inca's most intricate and masterful stonework. Two of the ruins we saw were near the towns of Moray and Maras. In the rolling hills lays perfect concentric circles that dig into the earth, thought to once be used as Incan scientific experimentation sites to see which crops grew best in the soil. I also highly recommend visiting the salt pans outside of Salineras. As you walk around the massive area the pans cover, it feels like you're on another planet! Wandering through the pans is a surreal experience and an amazing photo opportunity. Make sure to pick up some authentic Peruvian salt for the folks back home at the little market located near the entrance and exit.
Make sure to eat at the most adorable restaurant in Urubamba called El Huacatay. Their food was delicious and they had an adorable outside, tropical area with cushioned seats and candles. All the food was made in an outdoor open kitchen.
If you're in the Sacred Valley over a weekend stop by Pisac's Sunday market. It's a fabulous place to get lost, grab lunch will old town locals, and revel in all things Peruvian. If you don't shop in Cusco make sure to pick up a few goodies here as it seemed that the items were more authentic and they had a wider variety of goods. If you have time there is a spectacular Incan hilltop fortress about Pisa with amazing views of the Urubamba river valley.
TIPS & TRICKS:
Drink Pisco Sours! It's the notorious Peruvian drink that is somewhat like a tequila, but uses their native alcohol Pisco. They are delicious but dangerous.
Try Alpaca! I know it seems weird because Peruvians wear alpaca, have alpaca as pets, and eat alpaca. BUT It's delicious and tasted a lot like pork without all the fat and grease It literally is my favorite meat I have ever had, and I'm not a huge meat eater.
Coca tea is supposed to help you with elevation acclimation and ultimately altitude sickness. It tastes like black tea, but it is the root form of Cocaine and unfortunately illegal to bring back to the States.
The best time to trek in Peru is after wet season and during their winter. Between May and September is the best time to go. May is ideal because there are less tourists, once June hits, American and European tourists flock to South America to ski, explore, and trek during out summertime.