Cusco, PERU – land of the Inca, pisco…and not to mention a major bucket list item for me! Covid delayed our plans a bit, but it turns out our adventure was even more magical in a post pandemic world. We benefited from less crowds, which made the experience more authentic and definitely worth the wait.
6 Nights/ 6 Days
Cusco (2), Machu Picchu (2), Back to Cusco (1), Rainbow Mountain day trip (1) –> Lima
Our Airbnb was in prime location on the opposite side of the central Plaza de Armas. Days start EARLY in Cusco since Machu Picchu is the main tourist attraction and usually requires a 3am wake up to catch transportation. That means ears plugs are appreciated because 6am feels like 9am. The city is wide awake and ready for tourists to explore.
Cusco was home base for our adventure and we reserved two days to acclimatize before departing to Machu Picchu. Cusco is actually higher in elevation than the ruins but we weren’t taking any chances.
There are two ways to visit the Machu Picchu site: take the bus or hike the Inca Trail.
It’s required to hike with a registered guide and obtain special permits, so we booked with Alpaca Expeditions for our short 2 day / 1 night camping adventure. Our group was small with only 9 hikers, 4+ porters, 2 guides, and 1 head chef. We hiked with essentials in our day packs while the porters took a different route and met us at the campsite with our evening bags. Breakfast (2x), Lunch (1x), and Dinner (1x) was included in our expedition and made from scratch in the middle of the Andes- delicious and quite impressive!
On day one after arriving at Mile Marker 104, we visited the Wiñaywayna Inca site and ended the afternoon hiking through the Sun Gate with the first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It was pretty special to see other Incan sites in their natural state along our way to the indigenous citadel. Day Two starts with a 3am wake up call to hike back to Machu Picchu for sunrise at 6:30am and explore inside the ruins. Only 350 people are allowed to hike the Inca Trail per day, so the trek was nice and peaceful. Important to note the rainy season in Peru – we aimed for May, one of the best months to visit.
The Itinerary – 18 hour long days, but well worth it!
Day 1: Cusco –>Ollantaytambo Inca Rail train station –> Mile Marker 104 –>6 hour hike –>Machu Picchu –>Camp Site
Day 2: Bus back up to Machu Picchu summit –> *sunrise* –>explore inside the ruins–>bus down to Aguascalientes town–>Inca Rail Train back to Ollantaytambo–>Drive 2.5 hours back to Cusco
Day Bag Essential Packing List – Toilet paper packed in a ziplock bag (!), hand sanitizer, wet wipes, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, coca leaves, agua de florida for altitude sickness, water, rain jacket, vest, fleece
CUSCO RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Morena – the BEST spot for lunch or dinner. Wash down ceviche, lomo saltado, and potato causas with several maracuya pisco sours! Reservations recommended.
Republica del Pisco – our favorite place for drinks, a really great vibe with reggaeton music. Extensive cocktail list including the classics – pisco sours and chilcanos. Look for the Arawi, a mix of maracuya (passion fruit), pisco, and Cusquena beer. We also loved Museo del Pisco for a nightcap after dinner.
Cafe Dwasi and Three Monkeys Coffee Company – great options for coffee and breakfast
Yaku Restaurant and El Meson Don Tomas were recommended to us by locals to try to guinea pig and anticucho de alpaca.
El Panal has everything from hats, to art, and local designer clothing. Antipika Concept Store located at Suecia 380, Cusco 08002, Peru was also a nice find for quality textiles and clothing.
Chocolateria Ruro – look for this shop just one block away from the Plaza de Armas for high quality chocolate with flavors like Aguaymanto and sea salt from the Maras salt mines in the Sacred Valley. For an interactive experience, the ChocoMuseo offers chocolate-making workshops along with guided tours, tastings & a cafe. There is no shortage of chocolate in Cusco!
If you are looking for Peruvian ponchos, textiles, clothing, and street food head to the San Pedro market.
Explore the San Blas Neighborhood – Wear comfy shoes to walk through this old quarter of Cusco to the Mirador de Plaza San Cristobal. It’s known as the city’s most picturesque district characterized by narrow and steep streets, colonial houses built with walls of Incan stone, art workshops, potted flowers, and colorful street art.
Bring your coca leaves, agua de florida, and layers for this 17,060 ft hike. To give a frame of reference, Machu Picchu is just under 8,000 ft (and we didn’t have any trouble with the Inca Trail). Rainbow Mountain was more of a challenge to see the 7 colors at the peak, but 1000% worth the challenge. We booked this small group, 14 hour day trip through Viator and it included breakfast and lunch for only $39 per person. Be prepared for another early wake up call as you’ll be picked up around 3:30am and drive 2 hours and 40 minutes to the mountain. Note: this hike is not for beginners. Horses are available to rent for part of the journey.
Now time to sleep and off to Lima tomorrow!