About a week ago I took a day tour of the Sacred Valley. The company SAS Travel was recommended to me, so I went with them after they gave me a discounted price of about $15 (which quickly turns into more with the tourist ticket you have to buy to get into the sites, which is 70 soles or about $23 for a student or one-day ticket, plus the 20 sol buffet lunch they basically force you to buy!)
The trip was really good overall, though, and I really learned a lot. Our first stop was Pisac. The ruins there were really awesome and really big and spread out. If I had it to do over again, I definitely would have spent more time there, maybe stayed the night in Pisac and had the whole day to explore the ruins.
I also liked that you had some freedom to kind of wander as you pleased. I climbed up over a little hill and found some random ruins behind that were completely empty of people and had a really nice view of the sacred river Urubamba and the surrounding valley. I took my time hanging out there before returning to my group and exploring a bit more of the ruins. In less than an hour and a half (just not enough time!) we were back on the bus to drive to the next stop.
Ollantaytambo is probably one of the most famous places in the Sacred Valley, and also the town where most people catch the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo. The ruins there are perhaps less sprawling than Pisac (I felt we were able to see pretty much everything in our time there) but impressive because there was much more to learn about them. One of the highlights is the Temple of the Sun, which was unfortunately never finished because the Inca had to abandon the town due to invading Spaniards. The unfinished temple had these insanely huge (and heavy) rocks that the Inca had dragged from a quarry many kilometers away and up to the top of this mountain. Absolutely incredible!
On the mountain opposite the ruins there were two “faces” that the Inca believed represented the gods. One actually slightly resembled what the Spaniards looked like, which likely meant the Incas believed the Spaniards were actually the gods arriving at first. Another face was actually more of a profile of a head wearing a crown, and on the winter solstice on June 21, the sun rises right at the point of the crown and perfectly illuminates the temple of the sun. The Incas were really amazing in how advanced they were and how much they made use of their knowledge of astronomy!
The ruins again also consisted of tons of terraces. The Inca built terraces absolutely everywhere, on the most unbelievably high parts of mountains. All the terraces had their own microclimates and this enabled the Inca (and the local people even still today) to grown hundreds of different varieties of corn and potatoes.
We then got dumped off at a buffet restaurant where we had to buy lunch, then finished the tour off at the small town of Chinchero. The town was interesting because we got to see a demonstration of how the women dye their thread using local plants, etc. and how they weave textiles. Of course we were then strongly encouraged to buy something to support this small community of handmade producers. Then we visited the church, which is apparently famous for its frescoes (no pictures allowed though) and were told that the Peruvian government was debating building an international airport right in the area around Chinchero, which of course is a very controversial idea. In all, I would have much rather have spent the time we spent eating lunch and visiting Chincero at Pisac instead, but that’s the price you pay for an organized tour I suppose.
The rest of my time before Dad’s arrival was spent just walking around Cusco, avoiding the harassing souvenir and massage salespeople. I learned that the small road that I had walked down various times, unsure why there were tour groups snapping pictures of nothing, was actually the site of the famous Inca 12-sided stone. Which is just that, a stone that is cut to have twelve sides and sits nonchalantly in a wall with a ton of other similar stones (with probably only a paltry 10 or 11 sides though!) Sometimes there is even an “guard” dressed like an Inca warrior, plus a ton of young boys hoping for tips for pointing out the stone. I’ve debated the merits of the stone’s reputation with many people, and none of us really get why it’s so famous, but it’s obviously considered a symbol of Peru, or at least Cusco for that matter. In fact, Cusco’s local beer, Cusqueña, even has the stone featured on its bottle.
The hostel I’m staying at, the infamous Loki, also opened it’s new bar on Saturday night so everyone in town was there. We even received free t-shirts declaring “I woz there!” It was a really good time, as the hostel is full of other friendly solo travelers and I’d made a lot of friends in my time there.
The next morning I was still up bright and early to meet Dad at the hotel after his flight landed in Cusco. We spent the day wandering the city, including visiting (for the second time for me) the convent at Qorikancha, which is a convent that was built by the Spanish on top of what was originally an important Inca temple covered in gold. Inside the convent you can still see a lot of original Inca walls and rooms. It was a really interesting place to visit, right in the heart of Cusco off Avenida del Sol.
Finally we finished off the day with a dinner out on the Plaza de Armas. Dad wanted to try the cuy (guinea pig), and I hadn’t eaten it yet either so we both decided to order it. Well, let’s just say it won’t be something I’ll be ordering ever again! Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t even bring out the in-tact guinea pig for us to see first. And unfortunately, it tasted terrible. As I’d already known, there’s very little meat on the guinea pig. But there is a TON of fat. And all the bones there reminding you what you were eating. I munched a little bit on it, but ended up having to just order some dessert in order to actually have some kind of a meal. I was not a fan, and I don’t think Dad was much either.
After dinner it was early to bed, as we had a 6:30am pickup for our Lares Trek.