The Quechan people are one of the largest indigenous groups in the world that still live their lives as their ancestors did. These are the people you most commonly see on postcards of brightly coloured clothing, or wandering through the major city centres. Many will come down to Cusco to trade goods, pick up supplies like salt, or to earn some extra cash from tourists looking for the perfect photograph.
The foods and the scenery are like no other in the world, and to witness how people live in the alpine regions is truly a humbling experience. For those traveling to a rugged country like Peru, you’ll be surprised that you can live a life of luxury with full amenity hotels, or you can rough it by trekking across with the locals. Or even better you can mix the two and trek your way up to Machu Picchu and stay in finer hotels in Aguas Caliente and take the train back in style.
The Sacred Valley is the main artery that runs from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and then up to Machu Picchu, but there are multiple valleys that extend from the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is located in Cusco region within the Urabamba province. This is the most popularly visited valley in this region, but if you are starting out in Cusco take note that the altitude in Cusco is higher, sitting at 3,400 meters (11,200 ft). Down in the valley floor the altitude is much lower, at approximately 2,800 meters which is much easier to acclimatize in. The biggest hurdle for tourists is ascending at slower paces and allowing the body to acclimatize.
- Agues Caliente
- Machu Picchu
- Pisac Bizzarre
- Temple of Ollantaytambo
We couldn’t talk about the Sacred Valley of Peru without mentioning Machu Picchu. A Unesco World Heritage Site and voted one of the New7Wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is believed to be an estate built by the Incans for emperor Pachacuti (1438-1472). It was abandoned around the Spanish conquest, and then later discovered by historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. The most fascinating piece of this classical Incan architecture is the carved stone walls that fit together so perfectly. Most of city has been restored, but you can see the difference between the stones of Incan times and the stones of restoration because the Incans did not use mortar or clay between them. And the sheer magnitude of the bricks is astonishing. There is a lot complexity to this structure: the layout of the buildings, the animal and ritual significant markings, the intricate system for water and waste, and their means for agricultural cultivation. Our best advice is to arrive early in the morning and be sure to get a guide for this landmark, as it takes days to get here (by plane, bus, and train), and there’s so much history that you’d otherwise miss.
Most people don’t really think of Peruvian cuisine, other than some typical stereotypes that it must be similar to Mexican. Well, we are here to tell you that it’s not at all alike, and they have some amazing flavours that you don’t want to miss out on. Peruvian foods vary from region to region, but you will find the staples of corn, potatoes, quinoa, beans and tubers. In one small village, the Quechan people can grow literally thousands of varieties of corn and potatoes.
Did you know…?
In one rural town, the Quechans could grow over 2000 different kinds of potatoes and corn.
- Dragon fruit
- Picarones – doughnuts made from sweet potatoes!
- Alfajores – pastry wheels filled with caramel (manjar)
- Arroz de Leche – Rice pudding
Getting Around Peru
There are several ways to travel around the cities, by bus, taxi, walking, or with a guide (our personal recommendation). Traveling between towns and cities can be a bit trickier, especially with finding the pick-up spots, but after you’ve done it once it is easy to navigate through.
Public transportation is inexpensive and if you decide to take a larger commercial bus the prices (per trip) are usually posted on the first few windows. The in-town buses are difficult to locate and their routes are not typically posted, so ask a local which is the best route to take to get where you are going. Peruvians are extremely helpful with directions, so feel free to ask many people as you need to along the way. The smaller combis or collectivos are an alternative to the buses. These are minivans that will pick up passengers. Ask the driver where he is going and how much, but you pay for your trip at the end when he drops you off. Be prepared to be packed in like sardines, and don’t expect seat belts or anything safety related.
They are abundant. Private cars will also run as taxis and have stickers on their windshields identifying them as registered but note that being regulated does not mean that they are safer. Regulated taxis are clearly identifiable by either lights on top of the vehicle, or company names on the side of the vehicles, and they have meters within the cab. Price is negotiable, but always ask for the price first or you may find it has increased by the time you get to your destination. Also ask locals what the price should be, as some drivers will up the price for tourists.
You will have to take a train, PeruRail, between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Claientas (the last stop before Machu Picchu). The trains are well kept and have nice interiors, but you need to book you trip ahead of time. Tourist activities are heavily regulated in Peru, and most operators conduct business from Cuzco for this trip. So buy your train ticket in Cuzco while you are there, unless you are taking a guided tour which they will assist you in the purchase of your ticket.
What to wear in Peru
In the Sacred Valley the temperatures can be quite warm during the day and then very cool at night. In Cusco the temperatures can drop to below zero, so you will need to bring clothing for multiple uses. Plus there is no central heating in hotels, B&B’s, or restaurants, so layering is the only way to go. Bring a carry bag or backpack for walking around because you’ll be surprised how many times you can take off and put on one sweater. If you plan on doing any hiking you need a down jacket, down sleeping bag, and some base layers for added warmth. The higher the altitude the colder it gets. There are plenty of outdoor gear stores, like North Face, in Cusco too if you find you need some additional gear.
Ready to plan your visit to Cusco Region? Check out these popular guides and trips.