“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
Have you ever been in a foreign place but have it feel remarkably comfortable and incredibly special? That’s how my week in Cusco, Peru felt. I absolutely loved Peru- everything about it, the people, the markets, the mountains, the streets, houses, food, colors, everything. On my birthday December 13th I said a very sad goodbye to my host family and friends in Chile and headed to Cusco, Peru where I spent the next week exploring the beautiful area. I stayed in a wonderful place called the Healing House, which is a holistic healing community that offers massage, yoga classes and Reiki to the community, as well as participates in other projects around Cusco. This was a perfect place for me to stay. From the moment I arrived all the girls were so kind-hearted and welcoming, and I give a big thank you to the Healing House because it was a major contributor to my amazing trip.
A lot like Valparaíso, Cusco is a fairly hilly city; the only difference is Cusco is located a whopping 3,400 meters or 11,200 feet above sea level. Coming from living 5 minutes from the beach, this was a major change, and from the moment I landed I could really feel it. It was also really interesting being able to compare the two South American countries. Peru is less developed than Chile, which contributes to the extremely low prices.
Due to lack of sleep and altitude adjustment my first day in Cusco was pretty relaxed. I wandered around the San Blas neighborhood for awhile going in and out of a couple of stores, went to the market and bought some delicious fruit and veggies (the produce in Peru is unreal!), and found an amazing café where I bought some delicious banana bread.
The next day I went to the Baratillos markets in the center of town, which are only on Saturdays and are known for being overwhelming but extremely cheap. The place was a madhouse. You could find anything you could possibly imagine, from hats to blankets to computer accessories, books, toilet paper, anything you need. People were moving through the crowded market on their daily mission while mamacitas were yelling out prices to compete for customers. It was quite a production, unlike anything I’ve experienced and definitely different from the Sunday Eastern market in downtown DC. Using my much improved Spanish I bargained with a guy and bought some cute trinkets. After the markets we went to a delicious Asian restaurant where I got some miso soup and seaweed salad. Two of the girls I was with got a really great curry soup that I tried and boy did it have a kick! I quickly realized Peruvian food is a lot spicier than Chilean food, which I loved!
On Sunday, a friend, Ayana, and I decided to go see some ruins that were just up the hill from the house. We slowly trekked up to the entrance but once we got there and learned we had to pay to get in, we decided we would come back on a day when we were feeling like exploring more. We walked back down the road and ended up at a park where a guy asked if we wanted to participate in a traditional coca leaf ceremony. The coca leaf is used as a healing plant and is particularly effective with altitude sickness and therefore is highly honored in the Inca tribe. When we arrived we were each given a handful of leaves to chew while the ceremony was being set up. We were then each given three leaves to make three wishes with before presenting the leaves to one of the men who said a prayer, dipped the leaves in some liquid and placed them in the altar area. It was really unexpected but cool to participate in something like this, and I definitely gained a new appreciation for the culture.
The next day two friends and I took our yoga mats and hiked up the hills to the moon temple. It was an area with old ruins that had a bunch of little crevices where you could enter. We found a perfect flat patch of grass where we set up our yoga mats and went through a practice among the amazing Peruvian mountains and ruins. It was magical.
After yoga we walked back down to the fruit and veggie market and got a delicious freshly made juice followed by a huge bowl of soup and a lentil, grilled veggie, and plantain dish all for just 6 soles, which is around 2 dollars!
The next day I woke up to head to the town near Machu Picchu called Aguas Calientes. I took a two hour taxi ride from Cusco through the rural hills of Peru, around the mountains and to the town of Ollantaytambo where I took the train to the town of Aguas Calientes. The train ride was absolutely gorgeous. The tracks followed a river surrounded by mountains and lush forests.
The town of Aguas Calientes is a little tourist town with hostels, hotels, restaurants, and artisanal markets dispersed here, there and everywhere. After I checked into my hotel I walked through the markets and made my way to the natural hot springs for which the town is named! Aside from being relaxing, the hot springs were really awesome because I got to chat with a bunch of people from all around the world. I heard some amazing stories and adventures and shared my story!
The next morning I woke up at 6:00 am and headed to the bus station to take a bus to Machu Picchu! After a half- hour bus ride along a dirt road of switchbacks we finally arrived to Machu Picchu! This place is just as you hear, absolutely unreal!! The location up in the lush mountains among the clouds, along with the endless ruins, creates an absolutely unbelievable atmosphere. The surroundings make you wonder where the Incans collected all those rocks and how much work it must have been to bring them there and meticulously fit them together to form this monumental part of the Incan empire. How do they remain all this time through natural disasters and the passage of time?
I hiked through the ruins to the entrance of Huyana Picchu, which is the mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu. They only let 400 people hike it a day so I was lucky enough to get a ticket beforehand. The hike up the mountain only takes about 45 minutes but with the altitude and very steep steps, it was difficult. When I got to the top, the clouds were still floating over the ruins but I sat down and watched them clear and after about 20 minutes it was completely clear! I walked around the top for a little before heading back down to the ruins.
I had a tour at 11 so after walking around the ruins by myself for a little I waited for the guide to show up. We then walked for 2 hours as he explained all the classic facts. After a solid 5 hours at the ruins and a stamp in my passport I decided to head back down to the town of Aguas Calientes. I took a quick shower at my hotel, walked around the markets and then went to the train station to return to Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo I took a bus back to Cusco. When I got back to the Healing House I was exhausted from the day so went to bed very early.
The next day I went out to the markets with some friends to grab some last minute gifts and just walked around the town one last time. We ended up at a Crepería right near the house which is where we had a delicious coffee and chocolate crepe!
That night after packing and getting everything together for my long travel day back to the States, one of my friends at the Healing House gave me a massage. The massage was the perfect way to end my absolutely magical time in Cusco.
My week in Cusco was beyond what I expected. Everything including the people, food, yoga, markets and mountains was absolutely incredible, and I could not have asked for a more wonderful time. I know I will be back very soon in the future!
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharlal Nehru
Ciao for now!