Even though I was torn to leave Colombia, I was excited to see what Peru round two would have in store for us. It was already set in my mind that we would stay in Cusco for a while. Maybe work at a hostel, who knows. As we flew into Cusco, I had a rush of excitement. We had a lot to look forward to. John’s parents were flying in to do the Machu Picchu trek with us, we were about to stay at a HOTEL when they arrived, and mostly just the overall the excitement of knowing Cusco would be our home for a few weeks.
I met a ton of incredible people turned into lifelong friends, saw THE most breathtaking scenery, and lived it up in a city that I completely fell in love with. I don’t even know where to start really, so in no particular order, here are some highlights from one extraordinary month in Cusco:
1. Sacred Valley of the Inkas – A tour through the Sacred Valley is a must. This homeland of the Inka empire is absolutely gorgeous and a great prelude to Machu Picchu. It’s also an ideal way to get some insight into the daily Peruvian life as well as the fascinating history of the Inka culture and all their accomplishments. The Sacred Valley tour is one of the first things we did with John’s parents after they arrived in Cusco. Our first stop was Santuario Animal De Cochahuasi where we saw many beautiful animals including huge condors in flight and adorable Pumas. They also sell beautifully handmade alpaca gifts in their shop, where all proceeds benefit the sanctuary. We spent the rest of the day exploring Písac, Urabamba, Ollantaytambo, and Chincero, where we hiked up quite a few stairs to view Inka ruins, explored the markets, watched the sunset, and tried alpaca for the first time – delicious! The views were extraordinary, our tour guide was a total sweetie, and the entire day was even better.
2. Machu Picchu – I was very fortunate to be able to see this unbelievable, sacred 15th century Inka civilization twice during my time in Cusco. The first time was a four day journey with Biking Peru Trek. Our tour guide Americo was the best and he became someone we frequently visited in Cusco soon after the trek was over. This was one of the most unreal things I’ve ever done. Day one started with downhill mountain biking down a road for over 30 miles. Afterwards, we hiked up about 1,000 feet into the jungle to stay at a family’s house. A family house, ok. Nice and quiet and a good place to relax after a long day. Man, was I wrong. Turns out it was their daughter’s 17th birthday and the alcohol was flowing. I mean, bathtub brew shots, beers galore, and music to keep us dancing under the stars well into the night. Dinner at this sweet family’s house was also delicious and this is where we tried guinea pig for the first time. Not my fave. The next morning we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast before heading out to help the family pick coca leaves. It was such a unique experience and a nice way to get some insight into their everyday lives. They also have a coffee farm and we learned how they make coffee and were able to have a cup of our own. This was easily the some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Ever.
We then set out for another long day of hiking along the original Inka trail. We climbed narrow stairs over steep cliffs and witnessed some of the most incredible scenery. As the sun was going down, we arrived at the Urabamba River crossing where we crossed the river by a small cable car before making our way to the Santa Theresa hot springs. The hot springs felt refreshing and relaxing after a long day of hiking. Time for a beer! Or two.
On the third day of the trek, we made our way to the Hidrolectrica station where we then walked along the Peru Rail tracks beside the sweetest dogs towards Aguas Calientes. My favorite part of the day is when we stopped for lunch in a beautiful spot along the Urabamba River on the far side of Wayna Picchu. I could have sat by that river for hours. It felt so peaceful and the view wasn’t so bad either. When we arrived to Aguas Calientes, I was immediately taken back by this charming small town that’s located just moments from Machu Picchu. Soon after we arrived, Americo, John and I went for a quick hike to climb a ladder that shot 400 meters straight up a mountain. After the first stretch of the ladder, we decided to head back down. It was too high for our taste and our legs were practically out of commission from all the trekking. The best part of it all was when that little trickster Americo hid in the bushes to scare the hell out of us on the way back down. I’ve never laughed, or screamed, so hard. We joined a few other trekking groups that night for a fun and delicious dinner before saying farewell to Americo, who was headed back to Cusco that night.
The next day, John and I were awake and hiking by 4:30 a.m. up what felt like a million stairs to Machu Picchu. We were able to watch the sun slowly rise as we hiked and I was immensely relieved when we arrived to the top. How the hell the Inkas built that masterpiece all the way up there still beats me. I was in awe and couldn’t wait to explore. We met up with John’s parents at the gate and after a tour, we hiked up to the sun gates and explored more of the ruins. I don’t think my body has ever been that exhausted, so we skipped out on hiking up Machu Picchu mountain. Later in the day, we decided to make our way back down to Aguas Calientes. The stairs back down the mountain were much easier this time around. We enjoyed some celebratory beers and pizza while we waited for the train back to Ollantaytambo. I could barely keep my eyes open on the car ride back to Cusco but couldn’t help but reflect what was easily the most rewarding four days of my life.
Machu Picchu part two was even more special. I wasn’t expecting my Mom or brother to come out to visit. But after some constant persisting, they agreed to come out for a few days (and by a few I mean three nights). It was a whirlwind to say the least, but there wasn’t a chance in hell I would have them miss out on Machu Picchu. This was tricky since they were here for such a short amount of time, but my boy Americo got us set up with a one day tour. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are absolutely pressed for time. They picked us up at 2:30 a.m. and shuttled us to Ollantaytambo to catch the 6:30 train to Aguas Calientes. Once we arrived there around 8:30 a.m., we took the bus up to the infamous Machu Picchu. I was so excited to see this beauty again, but most of all jumping in my seat for my family to experience it for their first time. It almost felt like cheating to get there so fast after enduring the trek a few weeks back, but it was almost more enjoyable the second time around. I knew what to expect, but most of all I had another shot to hike up Machu Picchu mountain. I mean, I was THERE a couple weeks ago and didn’t do it. That just seems a bit silly. So my brother and I made the trip up the mountain as soon as we crossed trough the gates and it was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience which I’m thankful that I had a second chance at. Pictures and explanations really don’t do it any justice. The sights are breathtaking and getting to the top is 100% rewarding. I could have sat up there for hours and viewing the ruins from way up there was incredible. It was even better that I got to experience that with my younger brother, who was absolutely hilarious about being careful not to go too close to the edge. Me on the other hand… I was happy to hang right off!
- After we trekked back down, we met my Mom for a bite to eat before finding our tour guide to show us around the ruins. Hearing about it was even better the second time around. I knew my Mom and brother were enjoying the day too, which made the 2:30 a.m. wake up call worthwhile. We arrived back in Cusco at 11:30 p.m. for hands down the longest day of my life. I felt very lucky to have experienced this with my family, and the rest of their time with me in Cusco was a blast. We splurged at the gorgeous J.W. Marriott, ate some delicious Peruvian food, explored the markets, and I took my Mom to Loki Cusco to do a blood bomb, Loki’s famous drink, of course! It was almost like a dream to have them come visit. And yes, I balled my eyes out when they had to leave. Good thing Cusco has plenty more to take my mind off of it!
3. Loki Cusco – Speaking of Loki, this is where John and I decided to call home for the majority of our time in Cusco. We stayed here for a week before starting to work at the bar for the next three. This was an experience and a half to say the least. I knew what to expect from our stay at Loki Mancora (read more about our stay way back in March here!), but working there is another story. Crazy nights, friends galore, and some of the best memories that we’ll have forever. Was it a great experience? Yes. Will I do it again? Probably not. Did I learn how not to treat a bartender? 100% Nevertheless, it was worth all that my liver endured. I definitely felt like I was back in college with the themed parties (ABC anyone?) and beer pong/flip cup tournaments. But hey, who doesn’t like to dress up anyway? I will say, my college days had nothing on Loki’s 9th “twisted prom” anniversary party. I’m talking, fireworks, fire dancers, a “9” lit on fire in the courtyard, a 450 blood bomb train, insane costumes, and more! These people know how to throw parties. Also, we were lucky enough to meet two of our fellow staff members (Nick and Char!) on the four day Machu Picchu trek! My favorite part of it all… nothing beats waking up in the staff house and reminiscing/laughing our asses off about the night before. I was there long enough to go through two staff crews and through the karaoke nights, World Cup parties, and what not, these people seriously become like family. We eat, sleep, and of course drink together which makes for some intimate bonding time. This also goes for some of the staff in reception and the kitchen. It’s one big Loki family. Another upside, I also saved a buttload of money (free accommodations, a free meal a day, and 40% everything else). To my Loki family… let’s get TROPICAL bitches!!!
4. Culture – Cusco=Culture. Especially since there is a festival, parade, you name it everywhere you turn. We were lucky enough to be there during the Corpus Christi festival, a HUGE celebration of religious parades and festivities throughout the month of June. Whether I was walking around San Blas, exploring San Pedro Market, or hiking up to Sacsayhuaman (aka “sexy woman”) to see the Cristo Blanco statue, there was always something going on. The life and culture there was inspiring. The traditionally dressed women with their lamas or baby lambs were a nice touch too! (Even though it’s mostly just a tourist trap!)
5. Food – The food in Peru has been my favorite so far, but Cusco has hands down has had the best, most diverse options out of any place I’ve been in South America. The local menu del dias are delicious, the upscale restaurants are incredible, street food is mouthwatering, and I had SUSHI! Oh, how I’ve missed sushi. There are also a bunch of great cafés. On several occasions, I would hit up Cafe Y Chocolate for their delicious coffee and breakfast with my Loki BFF Chris. Basically, there is something for everyone, and I couldn’t get enough! (Where to sleep, eat and drink in Cusco – coming soon!)
6. Nightlife – Cusco has some fist pumping, dance until your feet hurt, get home at 6 a.m. kind of nightlife. Was is smart to go out after a shift at Loki? No. Was it worth is? YES. Also, thankfully for me, Cusco has a great salsa scene. Mythology has free salsa lessons every night followed by some serious salsa dancing. Mama Africa also plays salsa early on in the night. Both of these places turn into a full blown dance party later as the music shifts to some more modern tunes. You’ll find a lot of travelers partying at Temple as well. The perk of Temple? The falafel place next door open late night!
7. Friendships – Through all of these experiences mentioned above, I gained some pretty memorable friendships. From my dysfunctional Loki family to some pretty wonderful people of Peru, I couldn’t be more grateful that our paths had crossed. I know I mention it in almost every post, but nothing beats the friendships you create while traveling. I will always remember my month in Cusco, I will cherish the unforgettable experiences that I was lucky enough to experience, but I will never forget the people that I’ve met and all the silly, spontaneous, and forever memories we created together.