Peru is an adventure seekers dream. It’s a country full to the brim of diverse landscapes & experiences, including some of the most iconic bucketlist destinations in the world – Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, Sacred Valley & the once capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco.
At 3,399 m above sea level, Cusco is a magical epicentre & fusion of cultures. It mixes colonial architecture with archeological remains of Incan stonework & an international community of travellers, hikers & explorers.
An old city with endless charm, you can spend a full day exploring, sitting atop carved wooden balconies & wandering the main square, Plaza de Armas.
It’s the perfect base to do multiple day tours like we did, including hiking Machu Picchu (we did the 2 day trek), visiting the Moras Salt Mines, exploring the Sacred Valley (including the really beautiful mountain village of Pisac) & climbing Rainbow Mountain (opt for the lesser known Palccoyo).
Best Eats in Cusco
Green Point Vegan – awesome food & really nice people! Shout out to the boys for looking after Chesh with Coca tea when he was feeling really unwell. Must eat here!
Qura Bowls – really good acai bowls as well as your daily hit of greens! Opposite Green Point Vegan
L’atelier- this place felt like such a hidden gem. It was so cute with its gorgeous blue balcony looking over San Blas + they have nut milks, masala chai & gluten free desert options! We went twice!
Organica – This place is in a prime spot & has really good food! We opted for breakfast but the entire menu looked great. They have a little balcony that you can sip coffee & people-watch across from Plaza de Aramas
San Blas Market – really tasty & fresh seasonal produce. Definitely go here to pick up fruit & veg for cooking at home
The JW Marriot El Convento is perfectly situated in Cusco’s trendiest neighbourhood ‘San Blas’. Surrounded by cobble stone lanes leading to cute little cafes, colourful market places & even more colourful streets.
Housed in a restored stone convent, the property offers a unique stay with its huge sun terrace, great food & really cosy rooms right in the heart of the city. We really enjoyed our stay & would highly recommend.
If you’re like us & want to mix your accomodation up, you can opt for an Airbnb stay as well (we did 4 nights hotel / 6 nights airbnb to mix things up). We stayed in this gorgeous Airbnb (‘Mini Apartment in Historic Center’) for just $40 per night & it had everything we needed to enjoy the city (including kitchen & HOT HOT water).
Machu Picchu & Agues Calientes
Almost everyone dreams to one day visit the 15th century Incan citadel, Machu Picchu. The site itself is beyond belief, unlimited with its magic & as a wonder of the world it simply needs to be experienced to be believed.
Machu Picchu’s former use still remains a mystery, but with its astronomical alignments, panoramic views & possibly the worlds greatest sunrise spectacular it is a must see.
We have always dreamt of hiking the Inca Trail & for us it was an easy choice to book our 2 day / 1 night trip with Evolution Treks Peru. I personally was into their sustainability efforts, as well as their commitment to female empowerment (as the only trek company with women part of their team). Our guide Ru was incredibly knowledgeable & even more passionate about the history of the trail & preferred to talk of it more as a ‘pilgrimage’ than anything else. We’ve probably never had a better guide (ever) & genuinely feel we owe our experience to him. We learnt so much & had a genuine connection to what we were doing, as he encouraged us all along the way to stop, sit, listen to the parrots & breathe the fresh mountain air. It was magic!
Agues Calientes is the tiny town at the base of Machu Picchu & offers lots of lodging from b&b’s to a number of more high end hotels. The town itself is a must see – don’t miss enjoying a coffee right next to the old, live railway, the towns thermal hot springs or sitting by its glacial clear river to enjoy lunch!
Whether hiking in via the Inca trail or accessing via tiny (but mighty) neighbouring town Agues Calientes, luxury seekers will enjoy retiring to the one & only Belmond Sanctuary Lodge Machu Picchu.
The only property atop Machu Picchu, with sweeping views across the valley, including that of Huayna Picchu (Machu Picchus neighbouring peak) & beginnings of the sites ruins. You can literally see hikers finishing their Inca pilgrimage from the property grounds, you are that close to the action.
We recommend to hike the Inca (you can do 2 or 4 day treks) & finish your experience with a night or two at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, your legs & tummies will thank you ~ we did this & were so happy with our choice.
If you are looking for some old world charm, hop aboard Belmond’s Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco & enjoy a uniquely elegant experience, including romantic candlelit dinner & some of the most spectacular views of the mountains.
Other tours we loved!
We were lucky to experience two separate tours with Exploor Peru, including Rainbow Mountain & Sacred Valley, both accessible via Cusco & both achieved in a day each. As a side note, be sure to book your Rainbow Mountain tour at least 48 hrs after arriving to Cusco to give your body time to acclimatise to the altitude (Sacred Valley is completely fine though, as it’s actually at a lower altitude than Cusco).
We chose to do the alternative route to Rainbow Mountain ‘Palccoyo’, as it is not yet flooded by tourists & we had the privileged opportunity to be led by a member of the local community & his trusty llama. Palccoyo is actually cherished & managed by the local community, so we felt a real connection to being up on that mountain in the safe hands of our guide.
The mountain reaches approx 17,000 feet so it’s tough hike. It’s very achievable though for someone who is fit & isn’t affected by altitude sickness. Chesh was affected by altitude sickness while in Cusco, but was still able to complete the trek. It takes around 3-4 hrs round trip (depending how fast you walk) but there is no pressure to speed through the day & you set the pace.
We didn’t need it, but Exploor Peru also carries an oxygen tank for safety purposes & they are highly knowledge & take great care of you.
Many of you reading this have probably seen the Moras Salt Mines on Instagram & Pinterest – they became very popular recently & for good reason. They are super beautiful & unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They were much better in person than any photo I’ve ever seen of it!
At time of writing this (May 2019) there are only a few weeks left that the mines will be open to walk around. Shortly they will be closed for good to protect their integrity. You can still visit, but you will view them from a platform (which still gives incredible views & great photo opps).
On this same tour you can visit Moray (really interesting circular ruins), Pisac (archeological site & craft markets) and Urumba (a neighbouring village for a delicious lunch).
We really loved the Pisac markets, they felt very authentic, as we sat & watched women weaving rugs for quite some time, children huddled laughing eating corn & had lunch at an amazing vegan restaurant called Wakiy Cafe.
We loved our experience in Peru & would really recommend a visit! Give yourself about 7-10 days to have the full experience & allow your body to adjust to the altitude.
Chesh & Sez xx