How to: Long layover in Lima


How to: Long layover in Lima
When I bought my plane ticktes, I thought I was being very suave with the return journey- only a couple hours in Lima and we will be on our way home. I booked a hella early flight out of Cusco (6:30 AM) in order to make that 11:30AM international flight.
PLOT TWIST: I booked an 11:30 PM international flight. *face palm So while not being super stoked about the early flight when we could’ve taken a later one, we at least had plenty of time then to explore the beautiful capital city of Lima. 



At the airport we stored our bigger bags at the locker facility (you can easily fit 2 carryons and maybe a small backpack on top of that) and booked one of the many many taxi cab services located in the terminal (we were running low on cash so the appeal was being able to pay with credit card). It was a reasonable fare to go all the way to Miraflores (about an hour) at $18- especially considering we could split that cab fare 4 ways among our group.


First thing first, we started with Kennedy Square as that seemed to be the easiest drop off spot. Right by the square was a delicious looking café (that accepted credit cards haha) so we had breakfast there. For $10 I got a latte, fresh squeeze juice, eggs, and a variety of breads. Definitely a worthy brunch if nothing else. The highlight of Kennedy Square is definitely the ART scene. As we ate we watched several artists start setting up there easels. So right after breakfast we headed over to admire the multiple wares and pet the well taken care of stray cats that take residence in the park. (over 100!)

Top things to see in Miraflores
1. The COAST (basically just the walkway along the beach or up on the cliffs checking out the many parks as well as the lighthouse are a great to spend a lazy afternoon)
2. Barranco: If you’re into shopping, this is the spot
3. Kennedy Park to check out the many artists work and maybe purchase a really unique souvenir
4. The  Huaca Pucllana ruins which are in the heart of Miraflores and are pre-Inca!
5. If you’ve ever wanted to try out surfing, this is a great place to do it! 

One of the many cats roaming around Kennedy Park
We explored the immediate area around the Square enjoying what seemed to be a flash mob aerobics class in the street right next to the cathedral where choir music slipped out to contrast the high intensity techno.
We wandered our way down to the coast admiring the Park of Love and then following the beautiful coastal path as it wove through lots of parks and little cafes. At this point I was really feeling worn down after the long previous day and little sleep before traveling so I took a break from my compatriots to find a seat on a park bench and nap/ read for a while.
 Statue at the Parque de Amor
Stunning views of the coastline 
Looking down at the restaurant we’d be eating dinner at later 
After saying hello to a few happy dogs on the walkway, I settled into a café I was hoping would have wifi (it didn’t) but did order a drink and churro to pass the time.
The cafe had really cool views (though you can’t tell as well with the gloom hanging down on the ocean) 
Enjoying my treats and the “view”

Other top things to do in Lima

1. Take a tour out to the Peruvian desert and sand surf! 
2. Take a Peruvian Cooking class
3. Visit the historic district- most notably the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco to see the catacombs there
4. Check out the government palace 

I proceeded to do none of those things (though I really would’ve done some of them if I had more time to plan my time in Lima… *whoops* but the one masterful idea we had was a recommendation that came from fellow trekkers to Salkantay:
Eat at La Rosa Nautica
I re-met up with my compatriots out front and we had some amazing seafood with a 5 star eating experience. 
The try all seafood platter I shared with a friend that included fish, clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, octopus, and probably some other things thrown in there I missed. It was awesome getting at least 2 of everything so we were able to try everything and divy up (based on preferred pallets) any extras. 
It was a moody gloomy day, but inside was cozy and romantic. (Tip: Make a reservation to get a better spot by a window) This is probably one of the fanciest restaurants I’ve ever dined at considering they had a specialist in wine selection just waiting to make appropriate recommendations, white napkin services, and of course, charged you for the bread. haha! (even if you don’t eat the bread… take a note of that if you are gluten free) 
All in all it was a relaxing day in Lima exploring the hip neighborhood of Miraflores, trying divine seafood, petting lots of dogs, and taking it easy on a long layover. I hope you get to experience some of Lima on a layover or longer stay! Enjoy. 
Total Cost for day in Lima

Airport storage locker $16.70 split 2 ways  $8.35 pp
Taxi to Miraflores Kennedy Square (split 4 ways) $18  – $4.5 pp
Breakfast $10
Latte and Churro at Buenavista Cafe $3.60
Dinner at La Rosa Nautica $40
Taxi back to airport $15- $3.75 pp
Total: $70.20

The hike to Machu Picchu Mountain



Hiking to Machu Picchu Mountain
Tips for visiting
  1. Purchase your entrance tickets at least a month in advance, 3 months if you want to hike Huayna Picchu during the high season. You can purchase them here for the best rate. (use Google translate if needed)
  2. Purchase your entrance tickets for a 6AM start so you can be among the first into the site.
  3. Purchase your BUS tickets for the ride up the night before your visit so that you can get in line at 4:30 AM the day of and be ready to go.
  4. Don’t hike up (unless you really want to) It is a very steep trail with BIG steps up and traverses the same path the bus takes (so you don’t get any different perspective) Even the most fit people in our group got to the top very out of breath and sweating. 
  5. DO get a mountain hike ticket! This ticket gets you 1 re-entrance (the normal MP ticket only gets you 1 so if you get hungry or need to pee… you’re outta luck) 
  6. Dress in layers. It is COLD in the morning but gets very hot during the day. Dress accountably. 
  7. Pack a snack. As previously stated, there’s no re-entry unless you have a mountain ticket.

Our Experience
We were up at 4 and heading out of our hostel with our guide and group by 4:30 to the bus stop. We got bagged lunches/breakfast from the tour company as our last remaining meal provided by them. By the time we got there (about 4:40) the line was already forming and we were maybe 1-2 bus loads from the front of the line… By 5 AM I’d say the end was 10 bus loads back. 
We were stationed right outside some convenience shops which did open their doors early for the queue of people. We sat on the curb in our line spot, some of  us cracking into our bag of snacks for some breakfast. Around 5:30 the bus officials came by to inspect both our bus tickets and entrance tickets against our passport. (Make sure you book your tickets under the same name) and by 5:40 the buses were rolling up to start moving people up the mountain. 
There were at least 10 buses in droves and we were quickly shepherded onto the bus with our group. The ride lasted about 20 minutes and the first half was pretty dark, but twilight illuminated the views for the 2nd half. At the top we got in line to wait the 5 minutes or so we still had before they opened the gates, and our fellows who hiked up met us in front of the line. 
We shuffled in showing our tickets a second time and were among the first people into the site so we immediately headed up to the terraces to get the best view. We took a couple shots of the group in a couple good locations before settling at the top of the terraces with our guide to learn some history. 
Most of what we were told were things we actually learned from either the Sacred Valley tour or the day before at Llactapata and it lasted about an hour. I wish we had walked among the ruins for our tour but that is a 1 way journey… so unless you have a re-entry ticket, you don’t want to walk around down there until you are ready to leave. 
Crowds moving in to watch the sunrise 

It WAS one beautiful sunrise- definitely worth the early morning

2 people walking amongst the ruins by themselves- looked so peaceful! In an ideal world, you go without a guide and 2 days so you have a morning to meander and a morning to climb a mountain! 
Around 7 we said goodbye to our guide and snapped a few more photos of llamas enjoying all the vantage points we could of the terraces before heading up for our hike to Machu Picchu Mountain.
So many llamas

Machu Picchu Mountain
This hike, wow, it was challenging. I’d say it probably is less so when it isn’t on the heels of a 4 day trek, but it is steep and long for sure. About double the height of Huayna Picchu, this trail takes around 1.5-2 hours to climb at a moderate pace. Expect it will take 3 hours round trip. We checked in at the gate to the start of the trail, showing our tickets once again and signing a registrar. As this trail was really more stairs than anything else, we decided to hike at our own pace and do our own thing for it. (my hiking partner got up to the top in probably an hour or so while it took me 1.5)
I’d say I’ve never seen so many stairs in my life (but that would be a lie after hiking around Mt. Huangshan in China) 
How the majority of the climb looks 
There are pretty spectacular views as you go. Pictured above is the ridge we climbed over the day before with Llactapata hidden in the clouds and the Llatapata resort seen in that cleared space just below the middle of the picture. 
The best part is every couple of flights you get another astounding view down on Machu Picchu. Once you get close to the summit, it takes you around the back which doesn’t mean less stairs, but it does give you a bit of a break on steepness, and makes cresting out on top that much more spectacular
First view of the summit from the stairs
Looking down on the river bend we walked the day before
Awesome views of Machu Picchi and Huayna Picchu
A brief respite from stairs as the Inca trail wrapped around the backside 
Above the ridge line from the previous days climb but still a little ways to go
The trail has frequent drop offs… Keep that in mind if planning to do this hike 
Finally on top! 
On top the view not only down onto Machu Picchu is amazing, but you are, in general, above the clouds and at the top of the world. Across nearby ridges you can see the top of Salkantay Mountain poking it’s head up (amazing to think we started our trek on the far side of that mountain) and the ridge we summited to visit Llactapata. The entire bend of the river is laid out and it is so much easier to see just how nestled among mountains the Incas built their temple. It certainly provides a post card view from the top. 
There’s a lovely little hut for getting out of the shade, and summit sign to pose with. I spent about 20 minutes trying to de-sweatify, taking in the views, and sharing the largest avocado I’ve ever seen with generous fellow hikers. After about 20 minutes, Shaenah and I headed down hoping to have plenty of time to check out other parts of the site. It only took about an hour to get down (making it well and truly 3 hours RT for me haha I am perfectly average on the hiking scale! Woohoo!) 
The top of Salkantay Mountain! We started our trek on the far side of that mountain! 

The trail down with steep drop offs 
Once we got down however, we were shocked by the loads of people meandering around. We took a break at the base of the hike to admire some llamas and soak up some sun but eventually it grew agitating even on the further part of the terraces being surrounded by people. We decided to head out through the ruins where you guessed it, even more people milled about! There were loads of guides with 15+ people groups randomly stopping to point things out in narrow corridors. It. Was. Stressful. And in the even we mostly just wanted to get out of there instead of being able to enjoy the peace and tranquility or what should be exploring stunning architecture and ruins. 
In a perfect world, I’d take 2 days to see MP- 1 day to get up early and get there first things so I can then explore the ruins on my own at 6:30 AM (most people don’t head down there as it is 1 way to the exit) maybe even climb Huayna Picchu since you get to walk through the ruins on the way to that mountain. And then I’d plan a second day to climb MP mountain. 
I have heard that if you don’t need to catch a train that day, the place empties out a lot an hour or 2 before close so you maybe able to have some peace then. 
So many people
It was cool to explore the ruins themselves, would’ve been cool to have a personal guide walking around pointing out specific structural intricacies that we may not have learned on previous tours. 

Magic floating building. The Incas were magicians. 
  My last glimpse of the mountain as we exited the site. 
The exit was definitely a la Disneyland. There was a long line for the bus (took about 30 minutes) it was hot, and people routinely tried to cut in line. Again you had to have your ticket and passport out for inspection before getting on as well.
The bus ride itself was much more scenic this time since it wasn’t as dark and Aguas Calientes was a fun town to explore in the afternoon. 
Grilled Alpaca, quinoa, and my signature banana milk shake
We found a place for lunch where we sat outside on the sidewalk and watched a train or 2 go right through the city. Inside there was fun music we could hear and outside, even more street performers. (though the restaurant players tried to make us tip them even though we couldn’t hear them that well? So keep in mind if you choose a restaurant with live music, they are pretty insistent about being tipped) 
After lunch we wandered through some shops picking up a few more souvenirs and ended up with some gelato that we ate in the city square. We were both dying for a nap but after spreading out on some park benches for 15 minutes, we were asked to sit up by some of the city police. Eventually our time was running out and we had to head to the train station (which was PACKED) We sat there and had some free wifi (included in our fancy train ticket) which was nice. 
Then it was All aboard fancy pants train express. We all boarded with multiple other teams from Salkantay trekking that we recognized. A lot of people planned on napping and since there was a table you could put your head on, I swapped to get a window seat so I could see out! 
The fare included a pretty yummy lemon cake and a beverage of our choice. Then just as everyone was getting in the nap zone, our train turned into party city. It was actually hilarious and so unexpected. We learned a little bit about the culture and had a representative dance around our rail car. Then they put on a bit of a fashion show for different pieces (that unsurprisingly you could purchase later on) The women’s pieces all transformed into 2 looks one way or another however so she got a lot of cheers
Spectacular scenery on the train ride to Ollayantambo

Beyond the show however, the scenery was well and truly spectacular. I’ve never enjoyed a more scenic train ride. After all the fun, we had maybe 1 hour left in our train journey before getting out in Ollayantambo where we then caught another ride (2 hours) into downtown Cusco. We were dropped off at the Salkantay Trekking office to retrieve our luggage and then catch another taxi to our hotel by the airport. 
Apart from the taxi driver not knowing totally where he was going, we got the hotel and settled in around 9:30. Nothing spectacular with this hotel- I took a quick cold rinse (the hot water just took FOREVER to heat up) and hit the sack. It was one long day starting so early and ending so late. Definitely awesome checking off a bucket list item- I hope some of the tips offered here and our lesson learning in regards to crowds and time help you enjoy your experience there as well.
What an incredible trekking experience and awesome finale! I will do a summary post on all 5 days of our trek soon but for now, I hope the Salkantay Trek has earned it’s spot on every reader’s bucket list. 
Machu Picchu Day Costs:

Breakfast: Included in Salkantay Trek Tour
Return bus ticket from Agua Calientes to MP: $25
Machu Picchu entrance + MP mountain $40
Guide in MP (included in Salkantay Trek tour which was $405)
Lunch in Agua Calientes at Munaycha $17
Gelato in town: $3.75
Snacks and water purchased from shops: $13.50
Taxi to hotel from tour office in Cusco $13- $3.25 pp
Hotel near Cusco airport (with included airport shuttle): $57- 14.25pp

Total Costs for day at Machu Picchu: $116.75

Salkantay Trek Day 4- Llactapata


Salkantay Trek Day 4 – Llactapata 

Day 4 was our earliest start on the trail, with a wake up of 4:30 aiming to leave 30 minutes earlier. While we had electricity in camp the night before, the power was out for the area in the morning so it was DARK indeed. We ate breakfast using the collection of headlamps our group had ( I can’t imagine how they cooked stuff for us) and packed our stuff up as normal. This was our last morning with our chefs who we tipped and said goodbye to before hitting the trail at 5:30. The first few hours of the trail were steady uphill and we raced to be done with the uphill before the sun heated everything up. Watching sunrise over the valley was STUNNING and overhead flew parrots squawking and making a ruckus.

Epic views on the hike uphill to the ridge 

The trail this day was 100% Inca made and required permits to enter which our guide supplied at the start booth. After about 1.5 hours of steady sweating, we took a break at the only stand on that side of the ridge where people got fresh squeeze OJ for a dollar and others used the open air toilets (they were pink!) on the back side with the incredible valley view below. There was a cute puppy wandering around we all shared snacks with before pressing on for another 45 minutes or so to the summit of the ridge. Here there was another stand (closed) and we waited for everyone to regroup. Then it was about 20 minutes downhill to the Inca site Llactapata.


View from our break spot- Almost to the top of the ridge! 
Adorable dog at our break spot
Even though we were sweaty and most definitely tired of going uphill, some parts of this trail were just complete magic. 
Llactapata 
The name of this site means elevated place or at the top of  and has a direct view across to Machu Picchu (albeit a little higher up) and had an ornamental fountain and gate that framed Machu Picchu perfectly. A lot of the site was still overgrown meaning what we saw was only the tip of the iceberg here but wow, the view across to Machu Picchu as well as being able to look to the side and see Salkantay mountain was mind blowing. We’d come so far and were within sight of our final destination! We took another break here, eating snacks and snapping photos while Carlos explained more about the site and its connection to Machu Picchu. He explained it was used as a preparation place for the wealthier/ more important Inca families as they traveled to Machu Picchu. (so we were basically on the noble’s path) The site was initially reported by Hiram Bingham in 1912 (same explorer who discovered Machu Picchu) but wasn’t actually extensively explored and mapped until 2003.
The main buildings that are uncovered at the site 
Can you spot Machu Picchu’s terraces?
The central gate 

I loved exploring this site 
After a brief rest here, we pressed on another 30 minutes or so down steep, muddy switchbacks to another rest stop called Llactapata Lodge (you could actually spend the night here) where more toilets and snacks were available. At this point a few members in our group were struggling with the downhill (knee pain) so our numbers were spread thin as everyone moved at their own pace. We didn’t stop again for another few hours until reaching a small shack where we stopped to wait for Carlos to catch up at least and guide us on. He walked us 15 minutes further to our lunch stop at Aobamaba while he ran back up to assist the last people in our group. Lunch here was at a family owned restaurant right overhanging the river. We had a type of yellow curry over rice that was delicious and were able to rest a while and digest while waiting for the last of our members (who caught up to us) to finish their meal. We were finally about done with the uphill/downhill game but we still had a LOT of walking ahead of us.
View from Llactapata Lodge 
Continuing down the trail, we caught site of a beautiful waterfall just in front of the Machu Picchu site. So beautiful! 
After the restaurant we came to the long, and a bit scary suspension bridge that spit us out just below a waterfall running down from Machu Picchu. After the waterfall we reached the small town of Hydro Electric where you have the option (for $30) of riding the train the rest of the way into Aguas Calientes. A couple of people opted for this option to save their feet and knees but the majority of pressed on for the final 3 hours walk to our lodging for the day. The trail cut across 2 of the switchbacks the train takes through massive banana trees before then just following the train tracks the rest of the way.
Passing along the bottom of the same waterfall we’d seen in the distance. It was HUGE. 
Almost to Hydro Electric 
At hydro electric looking straight up the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. That line cutting across the center is actually where the Inca Bridge is (you can hike to it from Machu Picchu as part of your ticket)
It was a BEAUTIFUL walk with the river on one side, and often little streams or falls flowing in from the other side of the tracks. In a couple places you were forced to walk ON the tracks as there wasn’t a separate bridge for pedestrians. The trains passed us pretty slowly allowing for plenty of time to hear and get out of the way (there were maybe 5 trains that came while we were on the walk) After about 2 hours or walking we stopped at a restaurant for some popsicles and the toilets and Carlos actually caught up to us here. After another 40 minutes or so, he guided us off the train tracks and down to the road that would take us straight into town. Unfortunately for us, our hostel for the night was on the upper far side of town from where we entered which after 4 long days of hiking, we a bit of a stretch. We all settled into our rooms for showers to clean up and nap a bit before dinner. *Tip pack your soap and change of clothes in your day bag for this day as you barely get your duffel bags before dinner. The room was pretty nice in that it was cooler, with decently comfortable Clean beds! (after 3 nights in a sleeping bag, the sheets and bedding were welcome)
The trail cutting across the train track switch backs through epic banana tree forest

The train tracks are so scenic

View from the tracks looking straight up to the bottom of Machu Picchu
Crossing the tracks as there weren’t any pedestrian bridges 
Watching a train go by.
After 3 hours of flat walking along the train tracks we finally made it to Aguas Calientes. (the launch pad town for Machu Picchu) 
We walked as a group from the hostel to a restaurant where we had dinner (in much the same fashion as we had along the trail) and here you could also order drinks but they were not included in the tour price. (It was again difficult to pay for things when we were charged as a group for drinks… try to have close to exact change and small bills) After dinner we walked as a group to the bus ticket office a block away where we could purchase bus tickets to Machu Picchu for the following morning. Out of the 11 of us including Carlos, only 2 chose to continue the trail and hike UP to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The bus tickets cost $15 pp round trip and was well worth it as the trail to MP from town was straight up LARGE steps offering no other perspective than what you can get from the bus. (and I wanted to actually preserve myself a bit for hiking MP Mountain) After the bus we were able to wander town a bit of we chose and make our own way back to the hostel. But with a VERY early morning the next day, most everyone headed back to bed.

Salkantay Trek Day 3- Through the Jungle


Salkantay Trek Day 3 –Through the Jungle
Waterfalls, Coffee farms, and hot springs
Looking at the town our camp had been in and back up the canyon we’d hiked down the day before
Day 3- Supposedly the “easy” day I’d say it was really only easy in the fact that it was the shortest and at a lower altitude day. It probably had at least 1500 feet of up and down gain/loss through the jungle and after the previous hard day, it definitely didn’t feel all that easy. 

It started the same as before- 5:00 wake up time, 5:30 breakfast, 6:00 Depart. We walked through the outskirts of town along the road for a while passing a magnificent waterfall along the way. We stopped to admire a trumpet flower, and Carlos painted our faces with a berry that is used in textile dye. (We had some pretty ferocious faces after that) Our trek continued down the road a ways before turning off on a trail crossing the gorge on a really cool bridge- setting the precedent for cool waterfall crossings. Then there was about a 30 minute climb in which almost all of us sweat our berry paint off. I had to stop at the top of the hill to shed some layers and take a wet wipe to my face. (and some bug spray to the rest of me) 
The first of many waterfalls of the day 
A sign along the road showing the turn off for the trail 

The first (and coolest) bridge we crossed 

Looking back from higher up at the crystal blue water 
While there was tons of beautiful scenery on day 3, it all kind of blurred together. We stopped for our first break stop at a passion fruit farm and shortly after that passed a stunning 2 tier waterfall. A lot of the trail had some steep drops off down toward the river and was loose dusty footing. We passed several more fruits and snack stands, stopping at a couple to make use of facilities or make purchases. All in all we walked for roughly around 6 hours in total for the day. 
Another bridge crossing some falls along the trail
The biggest waterfall of the day 

Beautiful forest scenery abounded 

The trail was beautiful but more difficult than we all imagined 
Steep drop offs from the trail
One of my favorites showing how small we all were in the jungle 
Fruits stands along the way- The Popsicles are delightful

A lot of the homes and fruit stands don’t have any roads running nearby but there was a major road on the other side of the river. We passed multiple wires crossing over that had a large basket used for transporting stuff across the way. (at one they were even moving tourists along, I’m guessing those who followed the road and needed to cross over the trail side) 
We eventually reached some towns where we stopped for our 2nd break at a coffee farm. Carlos showed us how coffee beans are processed which was really interesting, and we got to sample some as well. (You can purchase some coffee beans or ground coffee to take him if you want but I wasn’t too in love with the coffee taste) From there it was going to be another 45 minutes or so of walking or you could opt to take a free van ride to the 3rd camp…. Most of the group chose to walk but as the walk looked to be more through little towns without much change in scenery, I chose to give my feet a break and hitch the ride. 

Grinding up the softer outershell of the coffee flower to reveal the beans (still needing to be roasted) 
The sample/ shop
When we got to camp, the hosts showed us where our stuff was dropped off and allowed us first pick of the jungle domes. There were the largest of the lodgings but the least ventilated. Definitely DON’T leave your shoes or wet clothes in there. I set out to take a few photos around camp and since we had the place to ourselves, I found the only hammock where I set back to relax and enjoy the nature around me. Once our fellow trekkers arrived and checked out their domes, we got lunch which was another spectacular affair. Not only was our appetizer ceviche (a raw fish soaked in citrus juices with some chili/ spices thrown in) the presentation of all our food was the best so far. Lots of fun food critters and of course, everything was delicious
Our 3rd night/ last camp along the trail. The next night would be in town
The orange dome with a hammock 
Note the socks and sandals.. It is generally a bad idea to just wear sandals around Peru as there are biting flies and sand flies/ no seeums. Any time I wore shorts I liberally doused my legs in deet but found it easier to just wear socks with my sandals than cover my toes as well. 
Lunch = AWESOME
Our app of ceviche 
potato cakes 
beans awesome details on the turtle!

After lunch we all changed into our swimwear and climbed aboard the Hot pots express (about an hour each way bumpy van ride) that took us to some hot pools by the river in another town. This was one of the add ons you will need cash for and I had NO idea about until the day before our tour. Definitely don’t pass this up! 
View from the entrance to the hot springs 
There were 4 large pools each marked with their temperature. It was heaven having the place to ourselves when we got there. 
We were among the first to arrive there so got to enjoy multiple pools almost to ourselves. *Make sure you shower off before entering as you will get whistled at, and you will have no idea why haha They had several pools of varying temperatures, with a couple getting VERY hot. You could actually swim lazily around in them, or find seats built into the stone around the sides. At the far end they had cold showers in the forms of waterfalls coming down the rocks, and warm showers you could sit beneath which were heavenly. And just past the pools you could glimpse the raging river so while the pools are not natural, the hot springs and river gave it a natural feel. We had around 2.5-3 hours to spend there and we lasted about 1.5 hours in the water before getting too pruney. 
BRING YOUR BUGSPRAY WITH YOU. While I could typically make the dash between pools and showers without feeling swarmed, the second we actually started drying off, the mosquito cloud was intense. I probably got 8 bites in the 1 minute it took me to dry off and spray myself down. After getting out they have a bar where you can purchase beers/drinks/ snacks until the van ride back.
Entrance to the hot springs 
The ride back was almost in the dark and took quite some time, but we all felt much more relaxed and clean upon return. We had our happy hour and dinner in the dark around camp (our last dinner with our chefs… sad) and it was another stellar number. 
After dinner, our guide had us move up to the home at the entrace to the camp site where the hosts had a bonfire going! We all sat around enjoying watching the stars and the flames flickering. From what I saw, none of the other groups bunking in our camp (there 2 maybe 2) got the bonfire treatment so we felt incredibly special. It was a blast of an evening! 
From there we were all just about ready to hit the sack though there were 1 or 2 choruses of yelps/ screams from other domes where an invading spider or 2 surprised the new inhabitants. Shaenah and I remained blissfully unaware of any visitors in our dome, but that didn’t stop us from taking the bug spray to any spots that were less sealed looking along the ground. Another incredible adventurous day along the Salkantay trek.

**Note if you choose the 4 day trek instead of the 5 day, you miss out on the coffee plantation, hot springs, and jungle dome camp.

Salkantay Trek- the Highest High


Hiking to Salkantay Pass-

 Highpoint of our trek
If Day 1 was the warmup, Day 2 was certainly the main event, the big kahunas, the “challenging” day. It also set the precedent for our daily routines. We were woken up at 5 by our guide bringing us Coca tea in our beds. (room service as they called it) and with camp 1 being so cold, the tea was definitely a welcome wakeup. Ater that, we were in for QUITE a day.

We had 30 minutes to prepare for the day, arrange our daypacks and repack our duffels, brush our teeth, and re-stuff our sleeping bags. At 5:30 we met with everyone for breakfast which was a quicker affair than other meals but still delicious. We’d have 4-5 platters of food options, a variety of more teas, a breakfast juice, and at the end we’d get our snacks/ purified water for the day.  After eating, we’d have about 10 more minutes to use the toilet, and make ready to go with a depart time targeted for 6AM. 

 The beautiful sunrise on our glass domes 
After a VERY rough night for me stomach wise and freezing I didn’t get much sleep and couldn’t eat much breakfast. Luckily one of our comrades in the group brought Imodium pills which is likely what got me through the day.
 The hike out of camp was mellow for a bout… 10 minutes before starting to climb up. I wasted no time in breaking my hair tie (again thankful for prepared group members who had extras) and it took around 1hout to get to our first meeting spot above camp and at the base of Salkantay mountain at Salkantaypampa (13625 feet). It was a beautiful morning, perfect weather and with little pink clouds rolling through the valley. We passed multiple streams and few llamas (a couple which gave us a show…) and from our break stop we could look down on our progress and see our camp down at the 
valley. All in all, not a bad start to the day with just under 1000 feet of gain. (935 feet) 
 Llamas spotted running through the meadows 

Looking back at the start of our day- our first camp is located in the valley just under that cloud
Salkantaypampa
Behind me you can see uphill climb part 2 which is the start of the dreaded seven snakes
The next section of trail (uphill part 2) would be the most difficult. There was a decently steep climb to the base of the infamous “seven snakes” switchbacks and we reached those just as the sun was coming up. While our group started to take breaks to sunscreen up, I carried on until I was at least IN the sun and shedding layers before I bothered with the the sunscreen and even then I tried to keep my momentum going with minimum breaks. 
At these switchbacks we ran into the pony trains which got frustrating as we were forced to let lines of horses past us only for them to stop a few switchbacks up and we’d re-pass them. It was also super having the 50+ people who did NOT hike this section all on horseback trying to tell us good job when I was feeling probably as low as I’ve ever felt on an uphill climb. Luckily it wasn’t too long before I reached the top where a bunch of big boulders with awesome views of Salkantay mountain greeted me along with a few fellow people from my group. I met up with them and we continued to the next meeting/ rest spot at Suyrooocha (14,730 feet) to eat a few of our snacks, use the toilet, and prepare for the last assault. All in-all part 2 of the uphill climb was around 1200 feet (we lost about 100 feet after the seven snakes)
Views from the trail of the Seven Snakes. Straight ahead is the right trail (“shortcut” route) which gains about 100 feet less than the switchbacks as it meets up with the main trail later on. The views were better from the seven snakes but in hindsight- I’d have taken the right fork to avoid all the mule trains since those took the switchbacks. 
(However our Salkantay Trekking group shirts say “I survived the trail of the Seven Snakes” so… of course I had to do that route instead)
Reaching the top of the switchbacks

Soaking in the sun and views of the incredible Salkantay Mountain
Our break stop was just past all these boulders 
After our daily snacks devoured, we set out for the final climb of the day- only 483 feet to Salkantay Pass. It was a fairly steep climb but after about 20 minutes/ bend in the trail, you could see the final destination which always gives you a little burst to get to the top at 15,213 feet. The pass was COLD. 
While hiking up in the sun with little to no wind had made us sweat, breaching over the pass was very windy and some clouds rolled in as we got there. It was a godsend however that our cooking crew were there with a big thermos of hot coca tea and baloney/cheese sandwiches (I picked the baloney off and settled for just the cheese) We all layered up and took our group/ individual photos for about 30 minutes before getting ready for the next challenge: the downhill. 
Looking up the final hill to the pass

Views from atop Salkantay Pass 

Looking back from where we came. The trail curves around to the right base of that mountain. 
Once again we created an offering to the mountain with stones each of us collected along the trail and carried up with us.

Right away as we started the descent I could tell this would be my favorite stretch of trail. All around us were big peaks playing hide and peak behind clouds, giant boulders and alpine flowers, all with a huge valley splayed out before us. 
We were once again allowed to hike at our own pace so I spent a bit of time walking by myself, and bit of time chatting with others from my group who were nearby. Most of the time I was taking photos and taking the views in. It took quite some time to get to our lunch spot (around 2.5 hours of downhill) at Wayracmachay at 12812 feet so we were all pretty ready for a break. Especially considering we’d already descended 2,401 feet in the span of 2 hours. 
Starting the trek downhill from the pass

 The views of where we were going- it was definitely alpine terrain 

Everywhere there were horses and mules grazing- often times amongst old Inca ruins or abandoned farms. 

A short breakstop on the way down- only like halfway to lunch
Some of the amazing horsemen that carted our stuff ALL THE WAY from our first camp down to our 2nd camp, and then back up over the pass. 
AMAZING TRAIL

Bridge crossings along the trail 
The first sign of civilization we saw in a while- still 30 minutes to lunch spot

An interesting pigpen we spotted on our way to lunch.
 We finally made it to the tents that contained our lunch. The meal this day was probably one of my favorite meals of the trip. Again we had a small app, soup, and then 6 platters of food including trout which I really liked. We were able to refill our waters (as needed) before then hitting the trail again for another 2,500 feet of loss. 
Carlos kept saying it would be more gentle- less rocky after lunch… but honestly it was still just as steep in spots and still a LOT of downhill. If you were using poles, keep them out ! It was definitely a change of scenery at least though as we hit the jungle. Just about everything in the scenery was different and it couldn’t have felt more wild of a transition. There were hummingbirds bigger than my fist, flowers as long as my forearm, and rain forest trees as far as you could see.
 Along this route, we only had 1 more meetup stop to make sure everyone was coming and that was at Rayanniyoc (11,460 feet). Bathrooms and snacks were available here and I believe a few people invested in a powerade but most of us were just ready to be done so we didn’t rest for long. Then it was onto the village of Chaullay where our camp would be for the 2nd night at 9,414 feet. (Total loss from the day almost 6,000 feet at 5,799!) 
Changes of scenery 

Break spot
My favorite flower was those yellow ones that look like birds from a distance
The canopy of trees was UNREAL. 
Looking back up the trail, you can’t even tell we were just walking amongst rock giants and snow 
Our camp here was the most “rustic” as far as toilets went (only 2 stalls with no toilet seats) but was quiet and nice. The huts were up off the ground about 2 feet with little steps to get in and again there were 2 twin beds with super comfortable mattresses. 
We did NOT have electricity here but you could pay 10s ($3) for pretty fast wifi and another 10s if you wanted to take a hot shower. As we settled in, people rushed to get on the sign up sheet for showers (30 minute blocks I believe) and others headed for cocktail hour. (Seriously hot cocoa and popcorn after a long day of hiking might be my new go to) We had a little time after cocktail hour to rest but it got dark very fast so there wasn’t much to do besides hang out around the only light- the mess area or sit in the relative dark of the huts. The early shower blocks were full and as nice as those sounded (literally you could see the steam and hear the people sighing from the open air shower” I knew once it got dark the bugs would be all about that light in there.. so I forgo the shower in favor of the hot springs/ shower I knew we’d get the next day. We had a slightly later dinner at 6:30 but everything was as delicious as before. It wasn’t too long before we were then all headed for our beds ready to pass out after a 26 km day.
Camp 2 
Dinner and Dessert- Stir fry and Red corn pudding

Day 2 of the trek extra costs:
$3 for a hot shower
$3 for good wifi
Cash at any of the stands for powerades or sodas.

Salkantay Trek – Humantay Lake

Salkantay Trek – Humantay Lake
The moment you’ve all been waiting for, and most definitely my main excuse for visiting Peru… I give you the Salkantay Trek. I’ll likely write up an overview of this trek/ tour to compare with the Inca trail tours but to start with you may just wonder why choose one over the other? Here’s my top reasons:
  1. Less Crowded (though that is becoming less so as word is getting out about the beauty of this trail)
  2. LESS MONEY– Salkantay treks are much more luxurious (I’ll get into that) for less money
  3. Let me emphasize LUXURIOUS. Our tour had enclosed domes/huts for 3 nights with actual BEDS, 3 course meals, snacks + “happy hour” (more on that later), electricity and showers some of the nights, and the use of horses if needed.
  4. More Flexible. Can be booked only a few months in advance instead of a whole year- plus you get more options for dates you like. Since this trail isn’t permitted like the Inca trail, you don’t have to plan this trip 1 year in advance.
  5. Arguably more BEAUTIFUL. This can be debated but when I looked at photos from each tour, I found the Salkantay trek scenery to be so much prettier and more diverse. Gorgeous mountain lakes, glaciers, jungles, and yes you still get to see off the beaten track ruins – 1 of which gives you direct line of sight to Machu Picchu.
About our Tour:
It was as luxurious as a trek can get and more beautiful than I even imagined. It was hard- but not harder than I figured it would be. The company was well organized, the guides, porters, cooks- all amazing human beings that I can’t imagine a tour of this scale being successful without. And it was all wrapped up in a shiny package at only $450 for 5 days. 5 days friends!
Click here for more info on the tour
Day 1: The Warmup 
This day and day 2 were honestly tied for first place on my favorite day in Peru. Even with the early pick up from the Plaza de Armas at 4AM…. We met our guide and hopped in the van for a 3 hour drive to the start of the trek. They passed out blankets on the van so people could continue to sleep (but not me) and our whole group (10 of us) were loaded on. The first part of the drive was quite long- it didn’t start lightening until 5:30 and the road was twisty and bumpy at times.
After around 2 hours we arrived at the town of Mollepata for our breakfast stop. We had 30 minutes and the place was very efficient. For 15 soles, we got espresso (pre made and bottled) teas, juice, fried eggs, and lots of bread which I used to make egg sandwiches. We all ate, used the banjo, and loaded back in for another 40 minutes up the mountain. The views driving up from here were amazing though as we looked out over the clouds wondering just how much higher our chariot would take us. The road was dirt and bumpy- not too mention a little scary with drop offs at times, so when we saw the end we were all quite happy about it. 
Bathrooms at the trailhead.
At the TH, the group loaded up on sunscreen, once again made use of the facilities, and got our gear all in order. Our guide assured us this day wouldn’t be too bad and he was right. There was about 30 minutes of climbing switchbacks which ordinarily wouldn’t be hard, but at 12,000 feet- quite challenging. It then leveled off for the remaining 2 hours or so of our hike to camp. The views looking up at the mountains ahead were incredible, and equally amazing the view from the valleys we drove up. Carlos pointed out special plants and began teaching us Inca/ Quechua vocabulary like Pachamama (mother Earth). We followed some irrigation ditches, crossed a couple bridges, passed a few cows, and in general enjoyed the beautiful trek into camp. We stopped about 20 minutes before to have our snacks and rest before arriving at maybe the best camp I’ve ever stayed at. (and could’ve enjoyed for many more nights)
Total miles to camp: ~6 miles
The group leading the way to the base of Humantay Mountain with Salkantay peaking through on the right. Our camp would be in the valley of the two. 
Looking back at the mountains we drove up. The trail is the higher road on the right, the driving road is lower on the left. 
Walking along the irrigation ditches still used by farmers today
A view into camp- still a ways away. 

Beautiful views along the trail in the morning 
We picked the first dome in the row of domes our group was assigned and found it to be the BEST little home away from home. 2 single beds with the most comfortable 4-6 inch foam mattresses we had our entire trip, a small light, charging outlets, glass ceiling for star gazing, clean blanket and pillow (to add to our sleeping bag setup) and best of all- an insane view out our door. We lay in there with the door open for a breeze, gazing out at the horses/ mules grazing beneath the most stunning mountain I’ve ever seen- Salkantay. We had an hour to nap so we laid down and I even noticed a few mules wander up to munch on the grass by our front door. Eventually I gave up on the nap and walked out to sit on the porch chairs and enjoy the sun. 
Looking into our dome- the tarp was to keep it from getting too warm during the day

The INSANE view from our doorstep 
Friendly mule looking for snacks
Looking down the row of our group’s assigned domes. We even had nice park benches to sit and enjoy the view from. 

After our hour siesta, we had lunch which was a fabulous 3 course meal – followed by yet another 45 minutes to nap/ relax/ and digest before the 2nd part of our hike for the day. (apparently it takes longer at higher altitudes to digest) Once again napping was fruitless for me but I still really enjoyed relaxing around camp in the sun. 
We got the best seat in the house as well. (though disclaimer, it was very hot haha)

Hiking to Humantay Lake 
You could see our next hike from our camp: a steep (very steep) hike up to Humantay lake which was just out of view. At home, I would look at it and think “sure that won’t be easy but it also won’t be too bad…” 
Let me tell ya- after a few hours of sitting around and a big lunch- it was bad. Starting out I was the slowest one, wishing I’d brought my poles and just having the hardest time pushing myself up the hill. Eventually I got back into the grind of everything and since when I hike, I HATE stopping to take breaks, I cruised up and was the 2nd to the top. Carlos gave us some coca tea leaves to chew on (which were gross) and I can’t attest whether they actually helped or not. What DID help, was playing epic soundtrack music on my phone.

The view looking back down at camp in the bottom of the valley- we already had come quite a ways.
The trail got SO steep at times. 

When we finally rounded on the lake, all our jaws dropped. 
I mean- this was THE MOST beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Crystal clear lake that reflected the most beautiful turquoise when the sun hit it, sitting under massive glaciers on a jagged mountain peak. My favorite part? The 2 dueling crater like ridge lines that framed the lake perfectly. We took some group photos on the shore before heading our separate ways to get a view from higher up on the ridge. We had about an hour to hang out before meeting back with Carlos to learn a few more Inca phrases, and make an offering to the mountain. The offering came from all of us selecting rocks and stacking them into a cairn. We then each got to say something along the lines of “Here is our offering, bless us mountain and mother nature” Then it was back down everyone at their own pace
Insanely beautiful lake

The 2 dueling ridgelines that were so unique compared to other mountain lakes I’ve seen

Rock offerings from the groups that came before us. 

Oh ya, the glaciers up there weren’t bad either 

I moved pretty quick downhill (since there was no where for privacy to pee up there) but I still enjoyed taking in the view and even raced a couple horses as they ran threw the flowers. 
Back at camp, we got our first happy hour. We again got the best table with a beautiful view of the mountain while we nibbled on popcorn, cookies, hot chocolate and hot teas. 
After that we got another short break to change into warmer clothes and watch the stars come out. Dinner was an amazing affair following the same theme as lunch with a small appetizer, soup, and then 6 platters full of food. We spent more time getting to know our fellow hikers and guide before we then got to meet the rest of our amazing team! We had 2 cooks that were both younger than me and a horseman who would help move all our things from day 1- over the pass- to our 2nd site. They were all so smiley and nice, it was awesome to thank them in person for our incredible meals and experience. Our dinner was then followed up with flaming bananas in rum for desert and then a mint tea to help with digestion.
Racing horses down for our meals. 
The happiest valley I’ve ever seen 
Bundling up before dinner
Enjoying the views without our tarp on the dome. 

Our dome was right next to the mess house. 

Happy hour 
As we headed to our domes, the milky way was out and visible, Shaenah and I both started looking for the darkest spot we could find around camp. I grabbed my little tripod I brought hoping just for this and managed to find a spot 3 tries in. It was COLD once it got dark so I didn’t try for long but was happy I got to take a few shots of the stars and our domes all lit up in the night. We then snuggled into our sleeping bags under our additional blanket for the night. 
Awesome conclusion to an awesome first day on the trail. 

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:  
Hours:
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

CUSCOOOOOOO
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