Urubamba, Sacred Valley Of The Incas
The largest town in the Sacred Valley Of The Incas, Urubamba is only an hour away from Cusco and makes a great stopping point in acclimating yourself to the area. Miles and miles of scenic pastures, blue and purple mountains, and sun and fog illuminate the ancient valley, which is nothing short of breathtaking. There’s not much to do here other than marvel at the views and visit with Urubamba’s locals, and that’s fine with me. However, we were lucky enough to stay at a new property run by Peru’s small boutique hotel group Inkaterra called the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. Built in the style of a traditional Hacienda, the main lodge has a few rooms with larger casitas nestled at the foot of the mountains out back. Having just opened this summer, we didn’t have a chance to visit the casitas but the elegantly tranquil lobby and restaurant and bar were absolutely perfect. It was a perfect place to rest once the altitude sickness took over. And it did.
Located on the outskirts of the city center of Cusco, this Citadel dates back to the 1100s when it was started by the Killke culture and subsequently taken over by the Inca in the 13th century. Jaw-dropping stones of ungodly weight and shape rest in delicate grooves that make up the walls of the citadel, and yet know one know exactly how the large monoliths were fit together so precisely. A quarry in the area answers the question of where the stones came from, but the rest is a mystery that will leave you scratching your head. I can’t tell you how many “aliens from outer space” jokes were made. Definitely worthy of a visit.
Plaza De Armas
Located in the middle of heart of Cusco, the plaza is surrounded by cathedrals, historic buildings, shops and restaurants, and is a vital center of Cusco. It’s a great stroll and apparently I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take a photo of it with my camera! At least I have my iphone. Trust me, it’s gorgeous.
Mercado Central de San Pedro
I’ve been told to expect the unexpected at Cusco’s largest market, and I wasn’t let down! This open-air market seems to go on forever, filled with produce stands, baked goods, home items, soup counters, colorful varieties of corn, all sorts of quinoa, toys, souvenirs and potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes! You can also find a variety of other things in the streets and alleyways outside of the market, and it just seems to go on forever. Colorful and lively, it’s easy to spend a chunk of time wandering around, and stop by the juice bars at the front for a Beer Smoothie. That’s right, fruit juice and beer, called Especial Con Malta. Delicious!
Inkaterra La Casona
Located a few blocks from the main square in Cusco, you’ll find Inkaterra La Casona, a 16th century mansion that has been restored and outfitted with 11 suites done all done in traditional Peruvian style with modern touches. Quiet and elegant, the salon, dining room and guest rooms all surround a beautiful courtyard that makes this hotel feel open yet private. Hands-down one of the best properties I haven’t ever rested my weary traveling head on, and it easily makes my top five favorite hotels in the world.
Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)
There are Incan temples, then there’s Temple Of The Sun, which was the richest of all temples built. Covered in gold which represented the sun, this site was eventually looted and destroyed by the invading Spaniards who then proceeded to built a church and convent on top. Some of the Incan stonework remains, but no sign of gold is to be found, unfortunately. However, looking at Incan masonry up close and touching it leaves you with a sense of awe as to how such artistic precision was even possible without modern-day tools. I was told their work at this site specifically is studied by builders and architects and I can see why. My mind was blown.
If the altitude introduced us to the consumption of coca leaf tea, then Peruvian culture introduced us to a whole variety of other types of tea for us to enjoy. So many different types of mint, fresh chamomile, lemon verbena and other plants were steeped in warm water, sweetened and sipped while enjoying the view, and trying to replicate it at home just isn’t the same.
Train to Machu Picchu
There are a few different ways to get to Machu Picchu, and luckily for us we took the scenic route with Perurail. With curved glass windows, Perurail affords you with a phenomenal view of the passing scenery which includes rivers, snowcapped mountains and an on-board fashion show. That’s right, a fashion show featuring local Alpaca wool apparel modeled by the crew. You can’t miss it. There are a few other surprises too.
What, you didn’t think I’d visit Peru and not catch a glimpse of these beauties, did you?
My entire trip to Peru would have been worth it if the only photograph I took was of Luciana. While walking around the market I instantly saw her from across the aisle, and spent most of my time at her stall while she graciously sampled juices and answered questions. “I would have worn earrings today had I known you were taking my picture!” she said, but if you ask me, nothing more was needed from such a beautiful woman like her. My heart be still!