We loved Peru! Not that we didn’t enjoy our previous stops in Latin America, but Peru made us once more realize how much we enjoy mountains, hiking, and being up closer to the clouds ๐Ÿ™‚

Cusco – the Inca capital

Our first stop was the city of Cusco – today a regional capital and in former times the capital of the Inca civilization. The center of town is incredibly beautiful, with multiple plazas, including the grand Plaza Mayor with its many churches, the cathedral, and the colonial buildings framing the square. We also noticed how Cusco was very much a modern city – fueled by the pride of the locals who still consider it the true capital of Peru. There were many restaurants trying out modern food concepts (you could also say hipster/Kreuzberg/Eastern Berlin ๐Ÿ˜‰ including plenty of organic and vegan places), some very modern audio/video guides in the cathedral and high-end (and insanely expensive) luxury trains to the Sacred Valley or towards lake Titicaca. There were also banal things like waste separation in public spaces and strict pedestrian zones in the center which we haven’t seen at this scale before.

From ornithology to archaeology

In Peru, we switched our attention from amateur ornithology (which we have practiced in the rain forests of Columbia and Ecuador) to amateur archeology, exploring the many Inca and pre-Inca ruins in Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley was central to the Inca civilization with Cusco as its capital, connecting many settlements on other mountain tops, and is also where Machu Picchu lies. Machu Picchu is of course the most famous example of the great architectural and construction abilities of the Inca civilization, but there are many more sites included in the boleto turistico ticket all along the Sacred Valley which are much less touristy (and, thus, allowed us to combine day-hikes with Inca ruins) – for details on the itinerary see below.

Travelling “auf eigene Faust” ๐Ÿ˜‰

We enjoyed that we were able to put Anna’s motto into practice and visit many sites “auf eigene Faust”. We camped at the foot of Machu Picchu, took various local busses or colectivos/combis (shared taxis) along the Sacred Valley and visited the adjoining villages. We also didn’t pre-book any of our accommodation anymore but rather just turned up to see what we found and could negotiate. Not only was it more flexible and relaxed, but it also tended to be cheaper that way ๐Ÿ™‚

One of the highlights we discovered in this way was Lares, a little village about 1.5 hours away from the main part of the Sacred Valley. There are hot springs and a thermal bath at Lares and we were able to camp on site, meaning that we had the entire thermal bath to ourselves in the evening and were able to stargaze from the comfort of the hot bath at 2 am ๐Ÿ™‚

Another one of our highlights was Huchuy Q’osqo (Little Cusco). We combined a 5-hour day-hike with this archeological site, where we were the only visitors that day and able to freely walk around the old ruins (until out of nowhere a semi-official looking ticket seller turned up – 7 soles = 1.75 Euros …). While perhaps not as impressive as Machu Picchu, it was great fun to explore the site at our own pace and without lots of other tourists impacting the tranquility of the scene.

Meeting locals

Aside from the Inca heritage, we also found that we had more opportunities to interact with the Peruvians. Our host Ivan in Calca (one of the more overlooked little villages in the valley) was enormously friendly, introduced us to his family and chatted with us over breakfast. He also drove us to the starting point of our day-hike or walked with us to the colectivo to Lares – and did not leave until having walked across the local market for 45 minutes to find appropriate food for us to take on the 1.5 hour journey :-). He wants to start his own travel agency and we wish him all the luck with that!!! Go and ask for the Hospedaje San Francis in Calca (on the corner of the main square).

Most of the restaurant owners we met were happy to talk with us about where they get the food from and what life is like for them. We also had chats with descendants of the local indigenous people (both in Ollantaytambo where the Quechua people live and on one of the floating Uros islands at lake Titicaca). Thanks to Anna’s Spanish skills, we were able to share a little about where we come from, why we’re here, what to see, but also more every-day things like where to buy food and how they think about tourism and their future. And it also made us realize that people all over the world have some things in common: Maria (Uros woman) told us how they got into an argument with their neighbors because their island got loose during a storm and bumped into the others’ ๐Ÿ™‚

Our itinerary

  • Cusco (3 days to acclimatize – and we definitely needed it!)
  • Travel to Ollantaytambo to see the main ruins (1 day)
  • Granary ruins in Ollantaytambo and travel to Aquas Calientes (1 day)
  • Machu Picchu and travel to Calca (via Ollantaytambo) (1 day)
  • Travel to and spend the evening in Lares with its beautiful thermal baths (1 day)
  • Travel back to Calca and day-hike to Huchuy Q’usqo (1 day)
  • Travel to Pisac for its vast ruins of an entire ancient town on the mountains, (not just one temple or one royal settlement) and on to Cusco (1 day)
  • Last visit to Cusco (1.5 days)
  • Night bus to Puno – Uros Islands – and onwards to Copacabana in Bolivia (1 day)

Outlook for future travels

We really highly enjoyed Peru – the impressive mountains, friendly little villages, and Inca ruins have so much to offer. Much like with Ecuador we feel that there is much more to do and see. Maybe we’ll be back one day for a longer multi-day hike including climbing one of the many 5,000 or 6,000 meter high mountains ๐Ÿ™‚