Welcome to the second part of my Peruvian adventure, maybe the most exciting part of this whole trip!
DAY 8: We arrived very early in the morning after a long overnight bus trip from Bolivia in Cusco, the old capital of the Inca Empire where you can really learn a lot about Inca civilization and get completely addicted it, my word! The same name comes from Qosqo or Qusquin that means center, navel in Quechua; in fact based on Inca mythology, it was the center where Underworld met the visible world and the Superior World. The city is called the navel of the Universe and you can feel the magic of this perfect place in many places of its valley, which are perfect for meditation as the connection with the Universal power here is stronger than anywhere else in the world (which I can confirm). We spent the morning in the area of San Blas before joining a free walking tour of the city that was very interesting to know more about its history, Inca civilization and the different areas of the city, including its famous San Pedro market. We booked it online as the other free tours that we joined in Peru and I must say that they are all very interesting and well managed, with very good tour guides. The tour is free but it is suggested to leave an offer because they really deserve it.
DAY 9: First personal dream came true during this trip: the visit of the Rainbow Mountain! La Montaña de Siete Colores is located in the Andes with an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level and it’s a two-hour drive from Cusco, and a walk of about 5 kilometers (you can use a horse for most of it, like I did). We had to leave the hotel at 3 in the morning to get there around ten in the morning but as it was winter time in Peru we were super lucky to see the mountain in all its beauty without snow! This rainbow-like appearance is created by the sediment of minerals throughout the area giving the mountain the different colors from turquoise to gold, from green to brown. It was hard to get at such altitude but I cannot name anything that impressed me more than that! The bad part of it is that the mountain was completely unknown to the locals because it was constantly covered with snow. It is only in the last decades that it was “discovered” as the climatic changes made it visible to people because the snow started to melt due to the planet higher temperatures. We booked this trip from Italy with Rainbow Mountain Travels and we found the agency very serious and helpful so I really suggest it. The prices are around 30 euros, including transportation from and to the hotel, breakfast, lunch and equipment for the trek (oxygen masks, doctors and Agua de Florida of course!). Being at 5,200 meters was a bit hard for those like me who are not used to it but with a good dose of Agua de Florida and a lot of mate in the morning I made my way to the mountain and back, although it is recommended not to stand more than 20/30 minutes on the top as it may become harder to breathe normally. We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon but we were so tired that we slept all the afternoon before getting out for dinner and come back immediately!
DAY 10: When we arrived in Cusco we booked a whole day tour of the Cusco Sacred Valley that was really one of the best discoveries ever, not only for the magic of the valley as I said before, but also for the places that we visited and the possibility to know more about Inca civilization that totally hooked me. We started the visit with the Archeological Park of Chinchero and of Moray containing Inca ruins, especially several terraced circular depressions with incredible modern irrigation systems. On this tour of the Sacred Valley we also visited Maras, famous for its amazing salt evaporation ponds, which have been in use since Inca times, offering a magnificent view. The last stop of our tour was Pisac, another amazing Inca village where the Inca created agricultural terraces that are still in use today. They also created terraces here by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands to enable production of surplus food which they used to store in incredible natural storages.
DAY 11: We left Cusco very early in the morning to reach Aguascalientes at lunch time on the typical busy Machu Picchu train. This small village lives around Machu Picchu tourism as it is the place from where all the buses to Machu Picchu leave so it is full of hotels and restaurants for tourists. We spent the afternoon hanging around, buying bus tickets for the following day “big visit”, imagining the Machu Picchu adventure and preparing to the trek with a good massage!
DAY 12: Finally meeting the Machu Picchu! After the Rainbow Mountain another dream came true during this trip, my third World Wonder! The lost city has still many mysteries to be solved but of one I am sure: the atmosphere of this place is incredible, the magic is tangible and the view over the valley is breathtaking! You can walk for hours and never get tired of it! I suggest to get a local guide at the entrance because it will tell you so much about this magical place that keeps its magic despite the huge number of tourists! Everything from train and entrance was booked from Italy except local buses (they sell in the afternoon for the day later) and guide. Make sure to book at least two months in advance as it is very hard to find the tickets. Consider also that due to the tourist emergency it is under discussion the idea of limiting daily entrance tickets. PS: if you practice meditation it is an amazing place to stop for a good practice here!
DAY 13: After the Machu Picchu visit we concluded our Sacred Valley with the visit of Ollantaytambo that we reached by train form Aguacalientes the night before. Ollantaytambo is part of the Inca Trail path and one of the most interesting Inca archeological sites. It was built as a ceremonial center and the visit of the city will make you discover some more interesting things about Incas. I was very impressed by the Storehouses, built out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where more wind and lower temperatures occur, defended their contents against decay. They are thought to have been used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window. Our fascinating tour of the Sacred Valley finishes here, just in time to catch our first domestic flight from Cusco to Lima and then to Trujillo, in the north of Peru where we arrived late at night in the fantastic original Hotel Colonial that I strongly suggest if you are in town.
DAY 14: We decided to spend the day in town walking around this amazing colonial city that I really wanted to visit and that was a great surprise for me as it is probably one of my favorite cities in Peru. We reached the sea level and breathing became easier also as we are finally near the sea. The city center contains many examples of colonial and religious architecture and its colours clearly tell the story of the long Spanish domination. I was constantly in a awe in front of the beauty and colors of its buildings (the Tribunal for example), churches (the Cathedral is just a wonderful yellow and white church that I totally fell in love with!) and simple houses and bars. I couldn’t stop taking pictures almost anywhere because my love for bold colors really blossomed here!
DAY 15: On day 14 we manage to arrange a one day excursion in the surroundings of Trujillo, as it is close to two major archeological sites of pre-Columbian monuments: Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the ancient world, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986; and the temples of the Sun and Moon (the largest adobe pyramid in Peru). They are both great examples of prehistoric Moche and Chimu cultures before the Inca conquest and subsequent expansion. These sites deserve a visit as they will keep you open mouth after the Sacred Valley experience! Our tour included a lovely lunch on the beach of Huanchaco, very well known small fishermen village and surfers’ top destination in Peru. We took a night bus to Lima (our last one!) that same night, our trip is about to finish…
DAY 16: We arrived in Lima early in the morning and we decided to have a last tour in Miraflores to breathe for the last time the Peruvian air (not the best air in Lima though as the city has very high pollution levels), eat our last Ceviche and get ready to catch our flight back to Milano!
Before giving you my best of (Food, Restaurants and Shops) let me give you a very last advice concerning traveling by bus: I was a bit skeptical at the beginning and I must say that it was hard not to sleep in proper beds and spend many hours in the bus BUT: i) Cruz del Sur buses are the best, super comfy and almost always on time; ii) it is the easiest and cheapest way if you want to travel all around the country; iii) the Andean landscapes by bus and priceless, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of these landscapes and the powerful energy of these mountains; traveling by bus is the only real way to enjoy them in all their beauty!
What to eat
Ceviche: the national dish and one of the most popular foods in Peru, ceviche can cause instant obsession as this cooked fish served cold traditionally includes sea bass (corvina) marinated for a few minutes in lime juice, onion, salt, and hot chilies (aji) is Peruvian to the core! Try the longstanding tradition of taking the leftover marinade of salt, lime, and chilis, mixing them with Pisco (a Peruvian brandy) and drinking it as a shooter!
Potatoes: Peru has dozen of potatoes variants and they use them all. If you are a potato addict please try them all (like I did), you will be amazed! Best discovery: Papas a la Huancaína, also in its variant with purple potatoes! It may look a bit like a yellow soupy mass topped with chopped soft-boiled egg, but don’t let that fool you.
Fried trout: If you are traveling around the Titicaca lake you will totally fall in love with this simple yet tasty recipe: the best thing is that most of the times the trout is fished just for you…can you get fresher fish that that?
Lomo saltado: Coming in second only to ceviche in popularity, lomo saltado is a mix of Chinese stir-fry and classic Peruvian cuisine. Tender strips of beef (occasionally you will find it made with alpaca meat) are marinated in soy sauce and add to onions, tomatoes, aji chillies, and other spices.
Queso helado: Traditional ice cream of Arequipa, nothing to do with cheese but super tasty, you can find it everywhere in town!
Where to eat
Amaz : amazing Amazonian cuisine in Lima
El Rincón del Bigote: the best traditional “cevichería” in Lima
Victoria Picanteria Democratica: traditional food of Arequipa in an historical restaurant that reminds us of the revolutionary past of the town
Faustina: Historical familiar restaurant following the tradition of the “abuela Faustina” that mixes tradition with modern in Cuzco
El Celler de Cler: modern and traditional cuisine in an historical Spanish building of Trujillo (ask for a table outside if possible, you won’t regret it!)
What to buy
(if you can don’t get these items at the markets as they are often not really handmade and not really traditional; if you do, choose carefully and make sure you buy from a local handcrafter)
Traditional Handmade (wool) blankets, rugs, scarves and tablecloths
Traditional Handmade Peruvian Hats
Traditional Handmade silver jewelry representing Peruvian elements: the Inca Cross, the Pachamama or other traditional representations (better if antiques)
Original alpaca wool ponchos, sweaters or accessories