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Cusco, Peru

Let's travel to: Cusco, Peru

The backpacker capital of South America- tons of adventurous tourists come to Cusco for the mountains, treks, and adrenaline pumping activities.

Brief OVerview

  • Just north of Cusco is the Sacred Valley, a large valley with many small neighboring villages such as Pisac, Chinchero, Calca, Urubamba, Ollyatambo
  • Most of these villages serve as stops on tours before heading to any ruins. Be warned that almost all tours will stop in these towns and encourage people to walk around the small markets and spend money on hand-made crafts and souvenirs. After a few, it can get annoying.
  • Be sure to always put on sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. If sunny, use SPF 60+. The high elevations means you’re that much closer to the sun and the UV rays are actually that much stronger. Sounds unbelievable until you see a few red people walking around.
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Peruvian Sol (PEN), Roughly 1 : 2.5 ratio

Machu Picchu trip

  • 1-day Train from Cusco -  This is the best method if you’re in a time crunch but want to see the ruins.
    • It’s about a 3-5 hour train ride from either Cusco to Aguas Calientas (the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
    • Walk the ruins for a few hours then take the same train back. Pretty rushed and you’ll have to deal with all of the other tourists doing the exact same.
    • Note: this is also a very expensive train ride (by distance), roughly $80 USD one way. You can either take a 20-min bus up to Machu Picchu or a 2hr hike. Many would recommend saving the energy for Machu Picchu itself.
  • 1-day Train from Ollantaytambo – Similar to above option, but with a cheaper train ticket.
    • Some people opt to stay a night or two here. It’s a smaller town where you’ll get to really absorb the local lifestyle, compared to the other more touristy cities.
  • Trek the Inca Trail – you’ll need to book this 4-day trek a few months ahead of time due to permit limits, further explanation below.
    • Inca Trail hike is unique in that you get to enter the ruins from above/through the sun gate instead of from below via Aguas Calientas.
  • Salkantay Trek, Inka Jungle Trek, or Lares Trek – many of these multi-day treks end up at has an alternative route that ends in Aguas Calientas, and has an optional additional day where you hike up to Machu Picchu (you’ll notice you can choose between 2-day vs. 3-day, or 3-day vs. 4-day, with the last day including a hike up to the ruins)

Other Notes

  • The best view of Machu Picchu is at sunrise.
  • Do the Huayna Picchu hike just before noon. It’s the huge mountain right beside the ruins where everyone takes the famous Machu Picchu photos from.
  • Being a huge tourist destination, expect everything to be insanely expensive. Buy snacks and drinks from the town and hope they don’t get confiscated
  • Don’t miss the last bus down, or the last train back to Cusco/Ollantaytambo. Leave yourself enough time because there will be a hundred other tourists scrambling to find their bus/train.

Adrenaline pumping activities

  • Motorcycle Rental (Peru Moto Tours) – reputable motorcycle rental company that also offers great single day and multi day tours. Breathtaking views through the Andes mountain range.
  • Via Feratta & Zip Line (Natura Vive Sacred Valley) – Easy but extremely fun climb up the side of Sacred Valley. After getting to the top, you take several ziplines back down.
  • SkyLodge (Natura Vive Sacred Valley) – little sleeping pods off the side of the mountain, 400m up. This is near the top / end of the Via Feratta climb (mentioned above). Slightly expensive but definitely a once in a life time experience you wouldn’t find anywhere else.
  • Canyoning & Rafting (ActivitiesPeru) – great guides and canyoning is great for anyone that hasn’t tried before. Rafting can be a little dull depending on season due to waterline, be sure to do your research.
  • Flight of the Condor Zipline (Maras Adventure) – if you think ziplines are aren’t that exciting, this extremely long and fast zip line will definitely get your heart pumping. If you’re on the heavier side, you may actually hit some trees.
  • Bungee/Slingshot (Action Valley) – solid adrenaline pumping activities. Since slingshot is pretty unique, I’d recommend giving it a try. Bungee pulls you up from the ground into a cable car, but the view isn’t anything spectacular. They were very strict about not allowing GoPro’s being used, slightly surprising for South America.

Treks

  • Before booking:
    • There are very mixed reviews for guides when you are looking to book a trek. 
    • A lot of people have just arrived and booked with local tour agencies/hostels and had amazing times, paying half the amount as a pre-paid online booking. Can always play it safe and go with the likes of Gadventures or
  • Inca Trail – need to book 2+ months ahead of time to secure an inca trail permit. Peru government issues a limited number of passes per day and pretty no way to get one if it’s sold out.
  • Salkantay Trek – good alternative to inca trail if you can’t get onto inca trail. I’ve heard that this one can get pretty tough but extremely rewarding at the end.
  • Inca Jungle Trek – also good alternative, filled with some adrenaline pumping activities. Not as difficult as Salkantay Trek.
  • Lares Trek – amazing mountain views that will leave you breathless. Be warned, this is also the highest altitude trek and will literally leave you breathless.

Local Specialty

  • Guinea pig - Be warned, it’s everything you imagined, especially if you try it at the highly recommended Kusikuy Restaurante. The pig is served fresh, and the shop owner will give you details on the pig before it was cooked, such as name and age etc.
  • Alpaca Meat – sort of tastes like lamb, but not as good. Similar to guinea pig, it’s a touristy delicacy. Worth trying.
  • Markets – a lot of people will be afraid of it, and I don’t blame you, but the cheap local foods at the markets are pretty tasty and I didn’t get sick from it. Definitely not the cleanest environment, but a full meal for about $2 CAD.

List by: Henry Poon

Henry is a self-proclaimed adventure traveler who fills his plans with adrenaline-pumping excursions such as motorcycle tours, mountaineering, canyoning, bungee jumping, and pretty much anything exciting that he is unable to do in Toronto. Follow his adventures on Instagram: @henwhee

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