Portland, OR → Houston, TX → Lima, Peru → Cusco, Peru

 

After 14 hours of airplane travel, not including layovers, we finally arrived in Cusco, Peru. From the airport we traveled an hour by cab through the rolling valleys overlooking the snow-capped Andes Mountains to the tucked-away Salineras Ranch where we would be spending our next several nights.

Upon arriving at the ranch we were greeted by two excited black labs, one overly fluffy puppy and helping hands to unload our luggage. Juan Carlos, our host, was patiently waiting with a warm smile behind the front, heavy, wood double-doors with a full breakfast spread of toast, avocado, bacon, eggs, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit and strong coffee. It was the perfect beginning to our Peru adventure.

Day 1:

After breakfast we quickly settled into our beautiful, spacious rooms. One room was on the second floor and had a balcony over-looking the ranch and surrounding mountains. Another was a short walk down to a trickling stream and featured a newly renovated outdoor shower.

A quick shoes and shirt change was all we had time for before taking off once again via car to tour the Sacred Valley and villages of Pisac and Chinchero.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba Valley, is a valley in the Andes of Peru north of the Inca capital of Cusco. It is believed that the Inca’s attraction to the valley was it’s slightly lower elevation, making the area warmer and perfect for growing. One popular crop was Maize (corn), which was used to make Chicha, a fermented Maize drink consumed in large quantities by the Inca’s. Many locals still make Chicha and it can be easily found by looking for the marker of a red plastic bag hung like a flag at the top of a wooden pole.

Our first stop in the valley was an alpaca farm where workingwomen dressed in colorful, traditional Peruvian garb taught us about the different bugs, flowers and plants used in the all-natural washing, dying, and weaving process. It was amazing to see where all the vivid colors were derived from. It’s nearly impossible to visit Peru without purchasing at least one alpaca sweater!

The farm also had several guinea pig enclosures where the nervous rodents were being fattened up for eating. Yes- eating. One of the traditional foods consumed in Peru’s Andean region is cuy (guinea pig). This dish can be found at many of the local restaurants or served head, feet, and all on a stick at a meat cart along the street.

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After watching us feed and snap selfies with the alpacas, Fiko, our high-energy and knowledgeable guide (who ran into someone he knew everywhere we went) brought us to explore some Incan ruins, megalithic carvings and the beautiful Adobe church in Chinchero’s plaza.

Chinchero is a small rustic town that sits higher than Cusco at 3,762m (12,342ft) above sea level. The soil in Chinchero is some of the richest in the Sacred Valley and is ideal for growing potatoes, olluco (a variety of colorful potato), oca (yams), quinoa, and fava beans. More than 3,800 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru, and scientific evidence points to the Andes of Peru being one of the birthplaces of potatoes along with northwestern Bolivia.

The Chinchero Plaza was covered in shops featuring many hand-woven, carved and painted souvenirs. “No, Gracias,” was a very repeated phrase to every shop owner who was pushing to relieve us of our soles (currency of Peru).

Unfortunately, many of the original Incan buildings and carvings located here have been destroyed or built over during the Spanish invasion. Despite this, the plaza offers a beautiful cultural mix of both Incan and Spanish architecture and design.

The Colonial Church, built around 1607 by the Spanish, is constructed directly on top of what was once an Incan palace. Inside, the church is beautifully decorated with detailed paintings and high ceilings. A few of the original Incan stonewalls were plastered and painted over when the Spanish re-decorated, but today the plaster is slowly chipping away to unveil the wall’s natural original state. (Photos are prohibited within the church).

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Our day’s adventure didn’t end there. We drove to the Incan Ruins at Pisac set high in the mountainside of the Sacred Valley. These ruins are considered to be one of the finest remaining Inca archeological sites in the country. At the top of the ruins is one of the largest Incan cemeteries. The mountainside is now covered in holes where many of these graves have been disturbed by grave robbers.

On the opposite side of the mountain the ruins are surrounded by semi-circle terraces, showcasing the Inca’s agricultural genius.

Unfortunately, due to a few tourists making unsafe decisions, many of the more secluded side trails have been closed. This however doesn’t prevent one from hiking all the way through the winding ruins to the windy top overlooking the breathtaking valley.

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Recommendation: I highly recommend purchasing a Cusco Tourist Ticket, Boleto Turistica del Cusco,” when visiting Cusco and the surrounding areas. This ticket only costs $25 U.S for two-day access to all the most popular and scenic attractions in the Sacred Valley including Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero and Moray.

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