Hello and welcome back to my Travel Peru series! This will be my second last post in the series, Cusco was the last city we stayed in before heading back to Canada. Cusco has pretty much everything in terms of extreme activities. You can bunjee jump, slingshot (reverse bunjee jumping) ride ziplines, river raft, visit historical sites, hike.. the list just goes on. We didn’t do everything in Cusco because we burned through our money pretty fast in all the other places we visit, but we made sure to do a bit of adventuring.
Once again we hopped on an overnight bus. This time we went to an actual bus terminal, bought tickets and rode the fanciest bus I’ve ever seen. Security at the terminal was a lot more uptight than the airport security had been. They checked our passports as well as screened us for metal and searched our bags.
The double decker bus had large reclining leather seats in rows of two. We were given pillows, blankets and food. The food wasn’t the best and there weren’t vegetarian options. Luckily our guides knew this before hand and made sure we ate prior to arrival at the bus station. Before the bus got going the bus operators went around with a camcorder and made every person briefly stare at the camera. I’m still not entirely sure why, our guide told us it was to help identify bodies in case of a crash… I’m still not sure if he was joking or not O_o
No matter how comfortable the busses we travelled on were, overnight travel in Peru is rough. The roads twist and wind their way through the Andes mountain range and I couldn’t help waking up feeling terrified that our bus was about to fall off a cliff. I was relieved when we arrived safely at the Wild Rover Hostel. As I mentioned in my previous travel posts our tour company messed up when we booked and marked my husband and I as siblings and roomed us in separate dorms. LBW tried to correct it but the best they could do at Wild rover was put us in a four person dorm with twin bunk beds and two girls from our tour group. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t ideal either.
Cusco Walking Tour
If you’re in Peru you absolutely must do a walking tour with a guide. It’s free and a good way to orient yourself with the downtown area and some of the local culture. We began in the main square downtown and wound our way between stone buildings, through markets and up steep hills.
After seeing the main square we were led through a marketplace where we got to meet alpacas & llamas! They were so chill, just sitting there and letting people pet them. Of course there was a mound of food in front of them to munch on so I’m sure that helped keep them calm.
In addition to the walking tour LBW arranged a bus trip up Mount Pukamuqu to see the Christo Blanco statue where we had a lovely view of Cusco below. On the way we stopped at a local alpaca wool boutique called Inka’s Expression and learned about the traditional hand weaving and dying process the locals use to make alpaca wool textiles. It turned out to be really interesting!
We were shown all sorts of herbs and plants that are used to make natural dyes which last longer than chemical dyes. One things that stood out was the use of cochinillia, a parasite that grows on cacti. This is used a lot in cosmetics which of course make them non-vegan. When crushed it excretes a red, blood-like substance that when combined with other substances like lemon juice or salt creates a completely different vibrant colour. They demonstrated for us the mixing of the herbs before they taught us how to recognize a real alpaca wool garment from a fake one. For example Alpaca wool smells like burning hair when lit, and also smells bad when wet.
San Pedro Market
If you’re anywhere near downtown Peru you have to see the San Pedro market — It’s huge! There are so many artisans selling goods and fresh fruit, baking, nuts, seeds.. anything you can think of it’s there! We did most of our souvenir shopping at the market. Unfortunately I don’t have many clear photos of the market. Mike & I expected to go back one more time before we left for the Rainforest so I was going to get my blog photos then. As fate would have it we had to return home early. I guess you guys will have to just go see it yourself 😉
Sacred Valley Tour
Mike and I split from the LBW group to take a day trip to the Sacred Valley (also called the Urubamba Valley). It was unfortunate that the sacred valley wasn’t included with the tour price. Our LBW guide Nilo was amazing and it would have been great to get his perspective on things. Alas, it was an external excursion so we booked it. A lady picked us up from the hostel at 7am, caught us a cab and directed the driver to a bus terminal where we met our tour group.
Most people on the tour bus spoke only Spanish. The tour guide would lecture about the land and history of the area in Spanish for about ten minutes before switching to broken English for maybe three sentences before flipping back to Spanish. This was frustrating for the few of us who didn’t speak fluent Spanish because we didn’t really get anything out of the guide’s lectures.
The bus was almost full. Mike and I couldn’t sit together but I wound up sitting between four lovely Australian people who immediately began offering me their snacks and making me feel comfortable. They were so nice! They had just come from the rainforest and had a few days before heading back home.
Pisac was the first village we stopped at along the way. As always the drive was terrifying and I thought I’d fall off the cliff. I finally got to be up close to the green agricultural terraces I had read so much about when researching Peru. I thought the terraces would be small but they actually could be built up to three metres high! We were allowed to explore on our own which was marvellous. We did a short low intensity hike up to the top of the old ruins where we were able to look down on the valley from a lookout point.
Confusingly, after seeing the ruins of Pisac our guide stopped at a local restaurant where we assumed we were getting lunch. We got off, but then the guide started angrily pointing at Mike & I and told us to get back on, so we did, but the tourists from Australia got let behind. I still don’t know why the bus stopped if we weren’t supposed to get off the bus!
We drove another ten minutes and stopped somewhere that we could pay for a buffet lunch. We knew there would be a buffet but had been told that we would be able to find other options nearby. The buffet was expensive so we didn’t want to pay for it. The lady huffed at us and told us to be back in 30 minutes. As it turned out, there were no options for people not fluent in Spanish. An hour later we piled back onto the bus to grumble in silence. Thankfully the bus did go back for our Australian friends!
Ollantaytambo was the fortress of Emperor Patchacuti during the Incan Empire in the 1400s and was one of the only fortresses to withstand the Spanish invasion for a period of time.
The ruins were much more extensive than the ones in Pisac. We were eager to explore but our guide insisted that we all stand around and wait for her to “teach” us about the history of the place in Spanish while pointing to pictures of the ruins in a book. I was miffed, we were THERE! I can look at a book or the internet at home, but it was probably going to be my only time in the sacred valley.
Despite my annoyance with the guide the ruins were beautiful and we lived the short 35 minutes she gave us to explore to the fullest. Mike & I climbed up the stone terraces all the way up to the unfinished Sun Temple. There was a path that went even higher but there was literally no guard rail and I’m a clumsy person. We went halfway up before turning back.
I could have spent an entire afternoon exploring the ruins, if not more. There were hiking trails that went even further that I would have loved to trek but those 35 minutes went fast. Finally we headed back to Cusco.
The trip was worth it for the experience of exploring the ruins and seeing them with our own eyes, but the planning & execution of the tour could have been a lot better.
Once again, I reiterate that the Sacred Valley tour was NOT related to LBW travel. Everything with LBW was really awesome. Our LBW guide even called the other tour company to make sure they dropped us off at the right place. I recommend seeing the Sacred Valley but do your research on the tour company before booking!
Food In Cusco Peru
Because of the elevation walking that would have been easy for us in Canada was much tougher in Cusco. Our guide, Nilo, told us that it just meant we could eat more food because of all the extra calories we were burning. I was totally down for eating more food! Our favourites place to ear was JC’s downtown. JC’s is one of the the best breakfast places I have ever had and it was incredibly affordable! We ate here at least three times. Cusco also had a lot of good dinner and lunch options, like the roasted vegetable platter and mango avocado sushi pictured above.
Have you been to Cusco? What destinations are on your bucket list!?
Next Sunday I’ll be posting my final Travel Peru blog where Mike & I hike Rainbow mountain. It was my favourite place in all of Peru so I’m really excited to share it with you! Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post please remember to like, subscribe, and sign up for email post notifications on the sidebar. See y’all next week! <3