Cusco is one one the places in Peru that has absolutely everything. Bungee jumping, river rafting, chocolate classes, historical tours, hiking, biking... you name it and it's there. And let's not forget Machu Picchu! Cusco is a dream come true for thrill seekers, adventure lovers, history buffs and foodies alike. Luckily we had lots of time to spend exploring.
City Walking Tour
A walking tour is a must for travelers new to Cusco. For one, it's free! It's also a great way to orient yourself with the city and learn a bit about the history of the buildings. The tour started in the main square of downtown Cusco and wound it's way between ancient stone buildings (one of which is now a Starbucks) and market places.
After the walking portion of the tour we hopped on a bus which took us to Inka’s Expression, an alpaca wool boutique. A table was laid out with natural herbs and plants which are used to make chemical free dyes. The staff showed us how the color of a dye can be changed by combining cochinila, a parasite that grows on cactuses, and simple additives like salt or lemon juice. We were also taught how to recognize a real alpaca sweater from a fake sweater. It definitely came in handy shopping at the market!
Afterwards the bus continued up Mount Pukamuqu where we stopped to take photos of the Cristo Blanco statue.
San Pedro Market
The San Pedro Market is a one stop shop for all your souvenir shopping needs. In addition to alpaca wool, keychains, shot glasses, and anything else a tourist might want to buy, the San Pedro Market also has a large selection of fruits, nuts and breads.
The Market is a few blocks away from the main square, so if you're in downtown Cusco it’s a cool place to wander around. You can even try your hand at bartering, just make sure you know a little bit of Spanish!
There are so many things to do in Cusco that it's hard to narrow the options down. A large portion of our tour group chose to participate in extreme activities like bungee jumping, but my husband and I were feeling a little bit more low key. The Sacred Valley, also known as the Urubamba Valley, was high on our list so we booked a full day tour.
Pisac was the first village the tour stopped at in the Sacred Valley. Green agricultural terraces were abundant along the mountain side and I was surprised to learn that the terraces were often built up to three meters high. Our guide shared a brief history of the area before we were given free time to hike through the ruins.
We passed the remains of several stone buildings on the way up to the lookout point where we had a fantastic view of the valley below.
After Pisac we stopped for a brief lunch before the bus took us to the village of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo was the fortress of Emperor Pachacuti in the 1400s during the time of the Inca Empire.
The Ollantaytambo ruins were much more extensive than the Pisac ruins. Stone terraces led up the fortress to the uncompleted Sun Temple which once served as a religious center.
The ruins were incredible but I wish we were given more than 35 minutes to explore the ruins. An hour or two would have been more sufficient to see everything. The tour was still worth it though, the ruins did not disappoint!
Vinicuna The Rainbow Mountain
The one place I absolutely wanted to see on the Wonders of Peru tour was Rainbow Mountain. I saw a photo of the colours bleeding down the mountain prior to the trip and I knew I needed to make a priority to see it. The three days leading up to the trek our tour group heard stories of thick fog and snow on the mountain but we decided to risk the trip anyways. We were so glad that we went ahead with it, the weather was amazing!
We were picked up from our hostel at 4:45 am. It sounds early, but once you've been on vacation for two weeks time seems to become irrelevant. There was time to sleep on the bus for two or three hours before we stopped for breakfast and that was sufficient for us.
Our guide told us that it would be really cold so we should dress in layers. It was a little bit chilly at the starting point, but once we started moving the temperature was fine.
If hiking isn't your thing you can hire a horse to walk you up and down the mountain. It was 90 soles to take a horse from the bottom, but hikers were also able to hire a horse halfway up for a reduced price.
I had no idea just how beautiful the walk up the mountain would be. I had only seen pictures of the top and they don't do justice to how green and lush the fields below the mountain are. I felt like I was walking through a movie!
The hike itself wasn't nearly as difficult as the Colca Canyon trek in Arequipa. The uphill sections had us breathing hard at times, but the trail plateaued often enough for us to catch our breath. After a about two hours of walking the view at the top was breathtaking!
Above is the iconic Rainbow Mountain photograph location. All the tourists wanted a photo!
The one mountain only painted a small portion of the picture that I'll remember in my mind. The whole area was filled with colour and wonder and green fields below and snow capped mountains in the distance. If you only have time for one excursion while in Cusco I highly recommend making the trip out to Rainbow Mountain. It took my breath away!
Farewell to Cusco
If I could only visit one place in Peru I would have to choose Cusco. There's so much to see and do there not even including Machu Picchu! I wish we had more time to explore the city, but due to unforeseen circumstances my husband and I had to cut our time short in Cusco and head home. We have so many reasons to go back though and will hopefully be able to see the rest of Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Amazon Rainforest one day!