Cusco- The Inka Museum & Qorikancha

Cusco Day 3- The Museums  
Following our EPIC riding tour in the morning, we still had an afternoon to play in Cusco and plenty still to see. What better way to polish our time off than with a trip to the Inka Museum and Qorikancha ruins.

First up was lunch at Ceviche in the Plaza de Armas. I’d never had Ceviche before but I am a fan of seafood and this restaurant brought the sea themes. The staff were the best and friendliest at any restaurant we visited. I got a delicious mint lemonade and roasted red pepper pasta (trying to remain frugal and not fully committed to trying Ceviche yet) While I didn’t try any of their seafood, the group did and said it was great, and the restaurant was beautiful!

After lunch we headed to the Inka Museum which I’d read was a little let downish but if you appreciate history and pottery, I think you will enjoy it. We breezed through most of it- reading what captions they did have in English. I loved learning about the different regions the Incas lived in, the types of food they ate in each location, and interesting pottery they made. 
The best part however was definitely the mummies. After visiting the Sacred Valley the day before and seeing some of the alcoves mummies were worshiped in, and learning about how cared for the mummies were, it was fascinating to see some! (even if they are in a dimly lit room behind a protective wall you have to peer through windows into) Like the cathedrals, the museum was a no photo zone so all I got was the one photo at the entrance! At only $3 it’s a quick (at your pace) interesting stop.
The museum is an easy walk from the Plaza de Armas. (no taxi needed) 
Inca Museum General Information:  
Mon-Fri 8AM-6PM
Saturday: 9AM-4PM
Closed Sunday
Cost: 10s ($3)
The Koricancha as seen from the solar garden (by the street)
After, we headed to the Temple of the Sun- the Koricancha – which was my favorite building in Cusco. It’s a nice walk from the Plaza de Armas or Inca Museum so no taxi needed. The cathedral next to it is free to visit, but as the Koricancha is a type of museum, it also cost $3 to visit. Luckily most of the building was photographable because it was SO cool. 

About the Qorikancha
Originally, this building was dedicated to the highest of Inca dieties: the Inti or Sun and was built with the highest level of stone masonry the Incas used- interlocking boulders, free of any imperfections, and fitted together using the lego style with no mortar. They also built the layout in a way to resemble what they were worshipping with the temple with sunrays moving out from a central point. The temple housed mummies and so much gold, the name of the building still reflects it, Qori = worked gold and kancha = enclosed or building. While none of the gold remains and barely any of the walls, the foundations still stand the test of time. 
The Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo directly on top of it encompassing the walls of the temple and building a cathedral adjacent to it. It was pretty insane to walk into what looks like a convent on the outside and see the inner courtyard to match, then look to the side and see Inca walls and ceremonial rooms. You can walk around the rooms, or go out on the stone balconies to look down at the Solar garden (another amazing viewpoint for the building) Some of the convent rooms house more artifacts and pottery, and some of the stone walls still show the etched designs from the Inca times. 
An example of the “lego” stone pieces that were used for building the Temple of the Sun. 
The inner courtyard of the convent
Another view of all inner courtyard for this massive convent 
The Temple of the sun on the inside of the convent
Looking out one of the balconies at the solar garden
The inner courtyard from the 2nd floor
Continuing upstairs is neat as this is one of the few cathedrals from  where you can gain access to the choir balcony (though again no photos are allowed as it is part of the museum) Once I explored the convent and ruins, I visited the cathedral and met up with my friends outside so we could walk back. 
Awesome views of the Cusco hillside from the 2nd floor of the Convent
Qorikancha General Information:
Museum Hours:
Monday-Saturday 8:30AM – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM-5:00 PM
Adult Price: 15s ($4.5)
Child Price: 5s ($1.50)
Church of Santo Domingo Hours
Monday- Saturday: 7AM-7:30 PM
Sunday: 7AM-11AM and 6PM to 8:30PM 
Cost: Free
Mass: 7AM, 6:30PM, 7:30PM (Sunday only) no tourists allowed at these times 
It was about a 20 minute walk back to our apartment where we had just enough time to shower and change into warm clothes. (Seriously gets so cold in Cusco at night) At 6 we had a meet and greet/ debriefing with our trekking company to meet our tour guide and fell hikers. The office for Salkantay Trekking was a little confusing as it is on the 2nd floor of a market space. Once there, tons of guides came over to check if we were on their team. Finally we found our guide and were taken to a smaller room to sign our waivers and find out more info on the trek. The guide gave us a map and told us details on how long each section of trekking would take, where we’d get our meals, start times for each day, extras, etc. The best part of the evening was our guide’s side hustle- renting out his own trekking poles for 20s cheaper than the company rents them. (Carlos you will never live that down) We were all pretty happy to save some money, so we decided to just rent from him

A little bit of a walk back to our apartment but a cool one nonetheless. 
More beautiful lighting from sunset on our terrace in the airbnb. 
All in all, it took around 1.5 hours before we were released to go find our dinner, pack the things we wanted for our trek in our provided duffles, and head to bed. Carlos (guide) recommended a restaurant nearby called Pachappa which was very busy and for good reason. It had a beautiful outdoor eating area with lamps and space heaters and cozy tables inside. We didn’t have a reservation, so we took what table they gave us. I got lemongass lemonade here which was really good and some steak (also good) Service was slow though so we didn’t even get back to our apartment until almost 10. We packed in a fury preparing for our early start (3:30 wake up) the next day. 
Awesome time in Cusco (particularly riding) But the journey was just getting started
Cusco Day 3 Costs: 
Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet  $10
Horseback riding tour $65 
Tour tip $4.5
Inka Museum $3
Lunch at Ceviche $15
Museum $4.50
Dinner at Pachapapa  $17.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp

Day 3 Total: $132.16

Horseback riding in Cusco

Horseback Riding to forgotten Incan Temples
While our first 2 days in Cusco were enjoyable, this day really BROUGHT it. It was one of the first tours I landed upon when searching things to do in Cusco for a half day and for only $65 riding, it really intrigued me. So far the only other country I’ve ridden in was Iceland, so I was definitely interested to see what tours were like in other countries. Luckily my friends were also game for a little riding adventure so we booked it, made sure to wear pants, loaded up on sunscreen, and got ready for out tour. 
We did NOT know what we were getting into, in the best way possible. This was hands down the BEST riding tour I could imagine, and possibly one of the best tours I’ve ever taken. 

We were picked up at a hotel near by our Airbnb (easier to coordinate) by a private taxi driver at 9AM who drove us around 15 minutes up past the San Blas neighborhood and  Sacsayhuaman ruins to a small farm where the horses were already tacked and ready to go. There we met another couple slated for our time slot making our group once again- 6. (the magic number of Peru groups apparently)

The ONLY con of this tour was there were not bathrooms at the ranch. Meaning those who had too much coffee to drink had to head for the bushes before we started. (for once I wasn’t among that group) We fitted our riding helmets which the guides were very explicit that we had to use, and then met the horses. Out of our group, I was the 2nd most experienced rider, though there were 3 of us that had decent experience. Then there were 3 beginners. Our guide, Holgar, matched us to our horses, with me getting a horse named Seos (who wouldn’t spook at my camera being slung around my side) and the most experienced rider got a horse named Fuego. We got a very brief safety/ riding demonstration before we were all helped to mount our horses. 
Holgar getting ready to mount his horse for the “riding demonstration”
The ride started off following the road past the ranch just a little ways before skirting off up a decently steep hill through beautiful woodlands. We spent the next hour or so going up and down hills, passing lush farming fields, and with incredible views of Cusco city below. We mostly rode in order of the horse’s preference so I got lucky to go in 3rd and could hear the guide the whole time. 
The entirety of Cusco laid out beyond the hill
Holgar pointed out a field that was growing the grain they use for their local beer, and also spotted 2 big Condors just getting ready to take flight! Half way to our first destination, he started introducing a little bit of trotting in short bursts and would check how everyone was doing. I found it a blast to trot and even canter at times through the trees and hillside. (My horse really wanted to MOVE, every time a spot opened up where he could go faster to catch up, he broke right into a nice canter) So beyond the scenery, the riding experience in and of itself was the BEST. 
We eventually got to our first stop where we dismounted and had a short walk along an “original Inca trail” (you’ll hear that a LOT from guides around Cusco) and this trail had one of their irrigation trenches as well. When we got to a hill overlooking a lush valley with a river flowing through we split up into 2 groups to visit the Devil’s Balcony. We kept our helmets on to protect our noggins from bumps when climbing down the rocks to get to the balcony (though there really wasn’t much climbing involved- fear not) and came to a small natural little cave with a balcony overlooking the river and very colorful rock across the way. It was so tucked away and hidden, you’d never know it was there unless a guide or local showed you! 
We then returned to the overlook while the other 3 people checked it out before heading down to the river to peer into the lower cave/ tunnel where the water flowed through. I would’ve loved to trek back into the cave but I have a feeling it would’ve gotten our feet wet and Holgar wasn’t keen on guiding us down there. We did however learn a bit more about how this site was a “Temple to the rainbow” either from the culture pre-Inca or the Incans themselves. You could see some hints at foundations around and it would make sense they would make use of the cave and natural balcony. 
Climbing down through the rocks to visit the balcony

The balcony overlooking the river as it flowed out of the center of the rock

Temple of the Rainbow
The big cave is in the lower left and the balcony the upper right- almost around where the bushes are. 
While everyone took photos with the cave I snuck away for my quick visit to the bushes and we all headed back up the hill to where we left the horses. They had a backpack with bagged snacks and water bottles waiting for us there which was perfectly timed after the walk. The snacks included some cookies, an orange, crackers, and a few hard candies. We had about 15 minutes to eat/drink and enjoy the view from our sitting spot where they even laid out the saddle cushions in a row for us to sit on. SUCH SERVICE. 
The view in the other direction from our snack break. The devils balcony is over (out of frame) to the right. 
Remounting our horses
We remounted our horses and headed back the way we came- this is where I stress if you do a riding tour to always make sure your stirrups are comfortable! The guide at the beginning set my stirrups to the perfect length and when we got back on the horses after the stop, another guy shortened them! As he didn’t really understand English and I didn’t realize just yet how uncomfortable the stirrups were going to be I left them but OH MAN. Big mistake. My knees were killing me by the time we got past the ranch and to our 2nd stop. So make sure, like a squat, your knee isn’t jutting out over where your toes sit in the stirrups. No amount of sitting back in my heels or getting my feet almost out of the stirrups would release the pressure on my knee.  
So apart from my knees killing me most of the ride back, it was still super exciting to walk and trot around the hills. 
Eventually we came to our 2nd/ last stop: the Temple of the Moon (another spot above Cusco) where we dismounted and walked around learning about it’s initial discovery and the different purposes of the rooms. Holgar pointed to one cave opening where they just recently discovered a mummy ! 
I will note here that while the devil’s balcony is quite out of the way and more difficult to get directions to, the Temple of the Moon is an “easy” hike from Cusco. The path actually follows the Inca highway to Antisuyo leaving from the Plaza de Armas and rising up through San Blas, passing Sacsayhuaman, crossing the Avenida Circunvalación and eventually flattening out. The site is free to visit and is frequented by locals who visit for exercise and spirituality. So if you aren’t a horse back rider, don’t care to find another sort of tour to visit, and would like to make the trek yourself- it IS an option. (Pair it with a visit to Sacsayhuaman though that does have an entrance fee) 
After walking around and learning a bit more about the Temple of the Moon, we remounted and had a short but FAST ride back to the ranch as the hills were gone and now we rode done a dirt road. WOW Since the stirrups were too short, we lengthened them and I was on my tiptoes at that point. (Not sure how we couldn’t find the magical spot the stirrups were at from the beginning of the ride..) so the bouncy trot was a little more terrifying- luckily my horse cantered where he could and we made short work of the road. Back at the ranch we were once again reunited with jackets and backpacks and said goodbye to our sweet horses. The same taxi driver as before drove us back into town and dropped us off in the main square so we could find lunch and continue our city exploring right around 1. 
AMAZING tour and even better value. If you’ve ever wanted to do a riding tour and find yourself in Cusco- even if only for a day- I recommend this. It was quite literally- my favorite thing we did and saw in our first 3 days.
To book, visit here 
Seos also thinks you should book this tour. 😉 

The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley
What is a trip to Peru without a visit to the famous Sacred Valley?
About as important a visit as seeing the top wonder of the World, Machu Picchu, the many sites and towns along the Urubamba (sacred) river are a must see. Preferrably over a few days with time to spend in each place. But if you are on a time crunch like we were, 1 day on a tour is what you get. 

About our tour 
On our 2nd day in Peru we opted to do a Sacred Valley Tour through Salkantay Trekking (the same company we were using for the trek) The plan was an early morning – start in Pisac and finish with Ollantaytambo – Chincerro district, effectively circling through the Sacred Valley and finishing on different sides of Cusco. The tour included our transportation, lunch, and guide but did not cover our entrance into the sites. There are 2 ticket combinations you can purchase- 1 which is comprehensive and covers the sacred valley AND the localized ruins around Cusco such as Sacsayhuaman and costs 130 soles. The other which just covers the 3 we were seeing plus Moray. As we didn’t think we’d have time to visit the many other sites, we opted for the cheaper ticket at 70 soles. 
We bought yogurts and bars from the store the previous night so we gobbled those up at 6:30 before the guide picked us up just before 7. Our group only had 1 other couple in it making us a 6 person group which was nice for a more personalized trip. 

We headed up the road learning about how Eucalyptus was planted around Cusco as it grows fast and provids fast wood for building- then stopped at our first stop just past the Sacsayhuaman ruins at an alpaca/ llama farm.

While the layout of this stop was largely commercial (also voluntary, they did give us the option of skipping the stop)- learn about how alpaca wool is harvested/ dyed/ and woven- then try to get us to buy some, I still appreciated the stop. We got to feed the alpacas and llamas which was fun and pet the ones who’d let us. The farm also had a couple Vicunya which are the smallest of the camelid family and by far the softest. It was great interacting with so many of the animals and I did find the types of materials they used for dye interesting. That being said… I also got guilted into buying a very expensive pair of socks – $30 (cheapest thing I could find) woven from baby alpaca wool that I figured would make a decent gift for Braden. (Hope you love them babe! )
My favorite guy: This is a great time to point out that Alpaca don’t have top front teeth… only bottom giant ones! 
A cute little Vicuña, the smallest of the camelid family! 
And a llama
Looking down the center of the farm. Llamas on the left, alpacas on the right. 
Then onto our next stop! 
A viewpoint of the Sacred Valley we stopped at on our way to Pisac. 
After the farm, it was another hour or so onto the archeological site of Pisac. We didn’t have nearly as much time at the site as I would’ve liked, but we walked around learning from the guide and grabbing a few photos of the view down the valley.
The temple sitting at the top of all of the site. 
About Pisac
The coolest part about Pisac is the astounding view and many terraces that laid out beneath the ruins. The view down the Sacred Valley is incredible and the terraces make awesome photo additions. This was our first taste of the ingenuity of the Incas as we learned not only were the terraces built for farming but also to prevent land slides and erosion beneath their temples. The site itself is divided into groups – the Temple of the Sun (where we walked around and at the very top), altars, baths, and water fountains. There were multiple rooms that the priests would live in (many people to a room) that had “built-ins” for holding golden idols. All pretty mind blowing to think about when standing in a stone room without a roof. The site was estimated to be built around 1440 and occupied until the Spanish destroyed it in the early 1530s. The town below wasn’t started until 1570. We learned a bit about the daily life at the site ending our tour with the “guinea pig” house room. A room with a smaller stone base built in with tiny little doors that the guide said the guinea pigs were kept and cared for in. 
A small room that was used as a lodging for the priests in the temple 
Views of the lower site 

Next up we visited the town Pisac (below the ruins) where we had an hour to shop, visit the market, etc. Again there was a “demonstration” on how they make silver jewelry at a shop but the shop had fancy/ nice bathrooms so for the 3 minute demonstration, I found that a decent trade off. (Also didn’t get guilted into purchasing anything this time lol)

We wandered down the street to the colorful Pisac market which was really nice and apparently only runs on Sundays/Tues/Thurs so we got lucky there. While I’d already bought a few things at shops in Cusco, I enjoyed bartering a bit more with the street sellers in the market and winded up buying way more than I should’ve considering I had to haul it all home in a little carry-on! We met back up with our group and guide at the silver shop before travelling another hour or so to the town/ archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. 
Views in the market 

About Ollantaytambo 
Again I would’ve loved to have more time to explore the site (without the guide) and take more photos particularly as this site itself was probably my favorite of the day. While the view isn’t as spectacular, the site is huge with multiple running fountains still, and had the most interesting history to its name. Tambo- which means resting place and “Olly” comes from a famous general named Ollantay who fortified himself in that temple while leading a rebellion to win the love of an Incan Princess. The site also has awesome history as it became the main fortified retreat for the Inca Manco who lead the rebellion against the Spanish in Cusco. It’s defensive position was one of the more successful against the Spanish as the Incas were able to flood the valley and defend the high walls above the terraces. That being said- it like many other ruins were abandoned for stronger jungle foot holds and was eventually… ruined by the Spanish. 
It’s also shaped like a llama which we’ve determined, I’m quite obsessed with. 
The town at the base of the ruins (Would definitely stay here to explore the Sacred Valley more if we’d had more time) 
Across from the temple/ fort were more ruins used as granaries and food storage
The balcony path we took to head down a different way
This site also had the best example of the incredible masonry of the Incas (that we visited). In the distance it was possible to see their main quarry (higher up on a mountain) from where they moved boulders weighing more than 50 tons about 20 km, sanded down and chiseled away, and created “lego” like locking pieces so that no mortar was needed. The stones fit together exactly creating an incredible strong and beautiful wall. There were a couple places where you could see the face of a jaguar caved into the rock or Chanakas (the Incan cross) which were incredibly neat with how they have withstood erosion. We learned more of how the Incans moved the boulders with wood and smaller rocks to roll them on before we took the balcony path down to the baths/ fountains. Again there was amazing masonry work as you could see the ornamental carving around the still flowing ceremonial fountains.
By the time we walked through the fountains we were pushing 2:30 and everyone was getting a little hungry, so another 20 minutes down the road we arrived at our lunch spot. 

Lunch was glorious- honestly one of the best parts of the day tour. The restaurant was cleverly open air- with live musicians playing very mountainous Andes music, and buffet style options for every taste. We left feeling very full after sampling a little bit of everything. 
Another view point we stopped at on our way back toward Cusco
After lunch we headed to our last stop and point of interest: Chinchero. Specifically the colonial church there “Iglesia Colonial de Chinchero” This town was at the summit of our adventures that day, sitting at 12,350 feet above sea level, (the highest altitude we visited in Peru thus far) and was once again built on Incan ruins. The large terraces are largely still used today for agriculture as the soil in Chinchero is the most fertile in all of the Sacred Valley. At the colonial church you can see the original Incan foundation from the temple that once stood there. The inside of the church is perhaps even more beautiful than some of the big cathedrals- every wall and ceiling space decorated/ painted with floral and religious symbols. Since we got there later in the day we missed most of the crowds but if you are looking for a more local themed market- their Sunday market is said to be much more “local” than the larger market at Pisac. The town is very quaint so I enjoyed the little “uphill “ walk we had between the parking lot/ government checkpoint for tickets and the church. 
We also got to see some dancers/ festival going on by the church which was also awesome to see! (considering we missed the parade in Cusco again this day) 
The church courtyard with Incan foundations
Walking around town 
The town has QUITE the steep streets 

After Chincero, we had a shorter 45 minute drive back into Cusco. We were dropped off back by our apartment where we changed into warmer clothes for the evening and set out to explore a bit more. For dinner this round we chose a place previously recommended from friends that was good, though maybe not as spectacular as other meals we had. It was amazing how cold it got in the evenings but luckily this round I prepared with my puffy before heading out. Since most things were closing up, we just walked around more parts of the city near the apartment enjoying the lights and evening vibes. Then it was back to our home away from home.

Sacred Valley Day Costs 
Breakfast- groceries from previous day
Tour – $50 *Included lunch but not drinks
Drink at lunch $5
Tour guide and driver tip $7.50 
Entrance to archaeological sites $21
Dinner at Los Toldos Chicken $10.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp

Total: $100 pp 

Exploring Cusco- Plaza de Armas

I literally can’t read Cusco without singing it in my head exactly as it is sung in the Emperor’s New Groove. ( In fact I quotes/ sung a lot of parts from that movie throughout this trip)  Peru has been on my bucketlist for quite some time- specifically to do the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, but due to cost of flights and time off needed, this was the first year I was able to make this trip happen! And it all started when a coworker told me how he and his wife booked the Salkantay Trek. – Obviously I couldn’t let them have all the fun. So after researching a bit more, I found a SUPER reasonable tour and decided the flight prices were good enough to go ahead and book it. And here we are. 

After a 13 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, and another couple hours in Lima- We literally had the earliest flight  we could get of the day from Lima to Cusco getting in at 5:45 in the morning. Let me start off by warning everyone that the Cusco airport is NOT heated and keeps their windows open so it is QUITE cold getting in that early. As soon as our bags came off the carousel we were layering up- hitting up the ATM- and then looking for a taxi. We paid more than we needed to I’m sure but overall, the cost of the $20 cab ride for 30 minutes to our Airbnb didn’t phase us at that point. We just wanted to settle in. 
We got to our Airbnb MUCH quicker than anticipated at 6:15 AM (thanks lack of traffic) and luckily our host was already on their way to meet us to let us into the apartment at 6:30! What a super host. He showed us around, pointing out how to use the electric heater for the shower as well as the mobile propane heater to warm the place up. We had an entire apartment to ourselves and it was awesome! There were 2 rooms, 1 with 3 twin beds, 1 with a double bed, a living room, kitchen, and my favorite: This terrace. 
It had awesome views out to the cathedrals in Plaza de Armas and the hillsides of Cusco. The place also had a washing machine so we could hang our clothes to dry in this little area.
Want to book this apartment? Click here

We thought about napping but looking out at the morning light convinced us we’d rather explore the main square (5 minutes by walking from the Airbnb) before the heat and crowds of the day.
Details along the street our apartment was on 
Our street! 
The sun coming up over the Plaza de Armas in view from our street
A view from our terrace 
More apartment views 🙂 
Walking down the street to the main plaza with the early morning light 
We walked around the square peaking in at the cathedrals hoping to explore them a bit more: but always seemed to have the worst timing as we’d be there during Mass. 
We did luckily get a glimpse into the Cusco Cathedral as the main front doors were thrown open in preparation for said mass- as well as getting ready for the big parade. (more on that later)

About The Cusco Cathedral
As far as cathedrals go- this one has QUITE the history in stone work. While we never made it inside, it’s important to meander to it in Plaza de Armas to appreciate the stone work and get your first sense of how the Spanish conquered the Incas. Finished in 1654- it took almost 100 years to construct and is a prime example of the Spaniards dominating the Incan culture. The smaller adjacent church, Iglesia del Triunfo (Chuch of Triumph) was the first church built in the Andes.  The location for the cathedral was specifically chosen as it was started only 26 years after the conquistadores entered Cusco and is built directly on the foundation of the Inca palace Kiswarkancha (the ruler’s palace). The majority of the stones for the building were taken from nearby Inca temple Sascayhuaman which remains largely in tact from its massive size. 
*Important to note : the cathedral is not open to tourists during Mass, no photos are allowed to be taken inside, and it costs 10 soles ($3) to enter.  *
An impressive facade! 
After meandering around the plaza, we grabbed breakfast from a hotel/café on the corner of the main square- enjoying the buffet of options and the view of the main square from the balcony. After breakfast and purchasing some paintings from a street hawker, we headed back for that nap
Unbeknownst to us, that Saturday was the first day in a month long celebration of Cusco! Every morning on the weekends, a cannon was fired on the hour and a parade with performances graced the streets.  We watched for a minute before heading back thinking to catch it another day when we would be less tired. (sadly not to be with our tour schedule the way it was) 
We spent a few hours resting at the apartment (and by a few, I mean the afternoon haha) and by the time we got up it was time for an early dinner/ late lunch. We found a restaurant 2 seconds from our front door that served traditional Peruvian fare and had good reviews. 
Wasting absolutely NO time on getting into the cultural foods- we celebrated our first day in Peru with Cuy – guinea pig as well as alpaca! The cuy was most similar to duck or rabbit- thin slivers of dark/ greasy meat with a very crunchy skin. (I wasn’t a huge fan but then, I’m not a fan of the other 2 either) The alpaca I ordered was good- most similar to a flank of very tender steak and with a yummy creamed quinoa sauce. I also started a trend of ordering banana milkshakes with my meal as for some reason- that always helped tame the headache I had from altitude during the dinner. 

A Note on Cuy

After learning about the traditions of eating guinea pigs, something they have done in the Andes for over 5,000 years, I wasn’t as shocked as I thought I would be. I was glad I didn’t order it- I just sampled some, but understanding that it is something they have ate for so long, eat at celebrations like Christmas and the like, made it easier for me to compartmentalize and not condone a culture that is not my own. Yes I’ve had guinea pigs as pets, and NO if I’d held one earlier in the day, I’d likely not have been able to eat one. BUT that being said- if you can try it, I recommend you do. It was quite the cultural experience. 
** Also it’s so ingrained in the culture, the cathedrals in Peru literally placed Cuy as the main dish in the Last Supper paintings. Not kidding – 
The alpaca and creamed quinoa I had for my dinner
After dinner, we headed up the stairs to get a great view over Cusco before meandering down through little streets to shop. We revisited the Plaza de Armas which under lamp light was so beautiful! We posed for a photo with some baby alpacas which I was absolutely obsessed with. *Warning it cost us 10s ($3) each to take the photo/ hold the alpaca. The women in charge of it were not playing around. We meandered down near the massive San Pedro market which appeared to be closing up at the time, and visited a grocery market for next day’s breakfast before heading back to the apartment to try and get another night’s sleep. 
Overall it was a solid first day trying Peruvian cuisine, admiring the architecture in the Plaza de Armas, shopping, and getting caught up on some sleep after 31 hours. It also would turn into a good day to acclimatize before further adventures the next couple of days. 
Exploring Cusco’s narrow streets 
Sunset on the city’s hillsides 
Cusco by lamplight 
A Note on Altitude Sickness
Everyone reacts to high altitude differently- you can be in seriously amazing shape and suffer from it- or (such as myself) in decent hiking shape and still experience it. From experience I know that I can breathe fine at 11,000+ feet and don’t really feel nausea, but can experience headaches… 
WELL headaches it was. Cusco sits right around 11,000 feet and only a few hours into our stay my headaches started flaring up. I did try to drink water (which I’m normally terrible at when travelling)  and also tried the tea (which I liked) but neither of those things really helped. Sadly advil/ ibuprofen only dulled the ache without ever really getting rid of it. SO with that being said- unless you are taking Diamox (high altitude sickness medicine) you really SHOULD plan a few days to chill/ explore Cusco BEFORE your trek – JUST IN CASE to acclimate. It definitely would’ve sucked having to hike with my head feeling ready to explode- especially considering our first camp was around 12000 feet. The other unexpected part of altitude sickness was inability to sleep. I’m already a terrible/ picky sleeper but the altitude wreaked havoc for me as well. So moral of the story: plan a couple days pre-trek or take Diamox if you don’t have enough PTO to make an 8 day trip like we did. 
Luckily after 3 days- the headache evaporated just as we began our trek. (Though I still struggled to get more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep)

Costs for the day
Taxi from Airport to Airbnb $22 – $5.5 pp
Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet  $10
Water jug and laundry soap $4.75 – $1.7 pp
Dinner at Kusikuy Restaurant $15
Groceries $10
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp
Total: $38pp

Puerto Plata: The waterfalls of Damajagua

One of the first things you do after booking a cruise (or even shopping for a cruise) is check out the shore excursions and what each island stop has to offer. In our case, the only port my mom (the cruiser extraordinaire) hasn’t already been to was Amber Cove, The Dominican Republic. This was a huge win as it opened up a whole new host of possible shore excursions and places to explore a new. The very first excursion that stood out was the waterfalls of Damajagua.

Described as “the adventure of a lifetime in the Dominican Republic’s best kept secret and natural wonder, the Waterfalls of Rio de Damajagua. Begin your journey with a 40-minute hike through beautiful landscapes to the first of several breathtaking waterfalls, where you can slide into a fresh, sparkling pool of mountain water waiting down below. Each waterfall and pool comes with its very own personality, and you’ll soon find yourself celebrating with every waterfall you conquer. This thrilling adventure has it all; from hiking trails with breathtaking scenery, canyoneering through narrow passages, sliding down natural waterslides, and swimming through caverns leaving you with memories never to be forgotten.” 
Need I say more? We were onboard. Cruise booked, excursion booked, wardrobe planned (you need water capable closed toed shoes or risk trudging 40+ minutes in crappy water shoes) we were so excited for this tour.
When we arrived at the port of Amber Cove bright and early, we expected to have to ferry into port but instead it was a straight walk off the ship (no small boat needed) We got to walk past most of the fun little shops and cafes in the port, meeting our tour operator at a bus terminal and climbing onboard. It was a short 30 minute ride (another selling point for this tour) and we arrived ready to do some jumping and sliding and beautiful water.
Arrival at the tour base: It was chaotic to say the least, you HAVE to have a locker as the only thing you are allowed to bring with you is a water proof camera, and when you cruise.. you bring stuff with you. It’s a fact of the game. So expensive locker paid for, we battled next the idea of having to wear sneakers vs. water sandals. After changing into my sneakers I found out apparently there is a form you can sign saying you know the risks in wearing sandals but still prefer them. Great. I had already shoved everything into our locker so I decided to just go with it in my tennis shoes (praying they’d dry out in time for my gym sesh the next day) After 20 minutes of battling people for locker positions, gearing up with a life jacket/ helmet combo, and using the restroom, we set forth on a 40 minute “hike”
Family photo starting our hike

You first cross a swing bridge which is fun to walk across but kind of unnecessary as there wasn’t at the time any water flowing under it. Then about 10 minutes later, you cross a small river and start your upward climb. The trail is almost completely fenced on both sides whether to keep wildlife off the trail, or keep the tourists off the farms.. I’m not sure. It was somewhat disappointing not to have much of a view for this whole walk. They did have some of the plants named which was nice, and at one point we spotted a cow behind some of the vegetation fence, but for the most part… it was a walk up a fair few stairs with 20 strangers and the tour guide’s video camera pointed at you. Lol

Walking at the back of the pack
Finally you reach the top where you must finish your provided water so that you can toss it in the last available trash. You descend some steps and get your first view of the canyon and water which reminds you that the money and the walk were worth it.
Lining up for the first jump
 Then you spy the jumping platform about 15 feet (?) above a narrow canyon that you get to jump into! (For the less brave, there’s a ladder you can climb down) The first jump is pretty high to get started making it a little more thrilling than I think it would normally be. You swim back up the canyon a bit where a guide helps you climb into a secret pool with a waterfall which was very scenic though dark and difficult to get photos with. (You’re also crowded into this small pool with the entire tour group of 15-20 people) So after a few group photos are taken in the small pool, you get to slide out of it and swim to the next set of falls.
Narrow canyons 
In front of one of the smaller slides
There’s 5 in all with a few you can jump OR slide and a few that are just slides. We all slid as I felt that was a bit more unique (I can cliff jump a lot of places) The best parts were walking through the more slotty sections with narrow green covered walls.
The last slide or jump depending on your preference
All in all some may think that was enough. (my mom was about done and wouldn’t have wanted to do anything scarier than what we did.) I felt only 5 waterfalls and like 40 minutes in the water for $90 was a bit steep. But then I’m also incredibly spoiled with stunning canyons all over Utah that I can explore for free so I’m probably biased! Either way it was beautiful and worth seeing. We had a short 20 minute walk back and then some time to clean up and collect our stuff but not really enough time to get food before we were back on the bus riding to the port. 
All in all I’d say the adventure was worth it, but check this link out for a tour (not organized by carnival) to do all 27 waterfalls/ pools. It has a 70 minute hike approach but much more time in the water and hopefully… smaller tour groups so you aren’t 15 people to tour guide.

More photos from in the canyons
 Side views from one of the slides