Tag Archives: cusco

Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market

You know you’re obsessed with photography when you hire a driver to take you on a photography trip. But that is exactly how we spent our last day in Cusco. We hired a taxi to take us to Chincheros and the surrounding countryside in the Sacred Valley simply to take pictures. The driver’s English was severely limited and our Spanish was not much better, but we communicated simply by saying “Photo!” every time we wanted him to pull over to the side so we could snap away.

Most tourists visit Chincheros to see the town’s ancient ruins, but when we tried to visit, we were informed that we could only enter by purchasing the costly tourist ticket that includes many sites in the region. Since we had already been to many of those sites and were off to Puno that afternoon, we shrugged our shoulders and told our driver, “more photos!”

The views were truly beautiful, and I literally took over 1,000 pictures in the span of two hours. So don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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The dynamic duo!

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10 Things You Can Buy At Cusco’s San Pedro Market

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows

Cusco’s San Pedro market is not a tourist market primarily. It’s meant for the locals and they sell pretty much everything you can imagine – and some things you couldn’t possibly imagine. You will find your standard market fare – fruits and veggies, cheese, fish and meat, etc. But then, there will also be some surprises…

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To the countdown!

#1. Any kind of juice you want. When you first walk into the market area, you will be bombarded by rows of women offering you a variety of fruit juices. Their products and prices are all the same so just pick any which one. You can pick any fruit you like (mango, passion fruit, papaya, banana, etc.) and any liquid you like (milk, water, ice, etc.) and they’ll make you a fresh fruit drink on the spot.

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#2. A pig’s head. Because why wouldn’t you need that?

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#3. Pig feet. Because if you’re going to buy a pig’s head, you might as well go all in for the feet too.

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#4. Massive loaves of bread with decorative engravings.

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#5. Huge wheels of cow cheese. It looks like butter, but I’m told it’s cheese.

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#6. Weird, tiny fish. Not sure how you eat these, but if you want to, you can buy ’em.

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#7. Masks.

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#8. Colorful corn – a Peruvian staple.

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#9. Colorful custard. I have no idea how this tastes but it looks pretty.

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10. A nap. Okay, it’s not something you can buy, but you can clearly take one if you’re so inclined.

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Part 9: Cusco: The Highs and Lows

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)

Cusco is a strange mix of modern and old. With nearly 350 million people, Cusco is Peru’s seventh largest city, but it is also the capital of the ancient Inca empire. We saw real street lights for our first time in Peru and large, modern stores, but the city reeks of oldness. The city is literally built on the layers of its Inca foundation. Many buildings retain their original Inca stone foundation, and there are small Inca ruins scattered throughout the city.

Cusco is also extremely hilly. You can hike up (or take a bus or taxi) up to Christo Blanco (White Jesus) for beautiful panoramic views of the city below. You can make out the Plaza de Armas and the two famous churches in Cusco’s main square.

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The Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman are about a 10 minute walk from the White Jesus. We had seen plenty of ruins already so we opted to simply photograph the ruins from afar.

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This is a classic Cusco street: Cobblestone roads, colonial architecture, and stone foundations with mountains lurking in the background.

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An awesome alligator sculpture in the middle of Cusco:

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Here we are wandering around the Plaza de Armas, the heart of Cusco’s bustling city life. Tourists mix with citizens enjoying a short rest on the many benches.

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After some downtime in Plaza de Armas, we made our way uphill to San Blas, Cusco’s artsy neighborhood. Be prepared to hike up steep cobblestone roads, but take comfort in knowing you can stop to catch your breath to laugh at Cusco’s version of the food truck and smile at the creative street murals.

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Cusco side by side

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San Blas side by side

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This was awesome – just a young couple painting a mural on the wall outside their apartment.

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As we walked back to our hotel, I snapped a photograph of one of the side streets. It’s not particularly beautiful, but it is a good example of Cusco’s ancient charm. Notice the bottom layer or neatly stacked stones on the right wall — those are the Inca stones. The messy, round stones on top were laid by the Spanish colonialists. Much of Cusco looks like this – a city of layers, an evocative mix of past and present.

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Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues

Cusco is a good base for several side trips in the Sacred Valley. Our second day in Cusco we spent exploring the countryside, namely the town of Pisac and its famous market. The Pisac markets operate every day, but the big days (and most heavy tourist days) are Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. You can easily take a bus or collectivo to Pisac but we met a couple who was planning on going the same day, so we shared a cab with them.

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The advantage of taking a cab (besides for the comfort) is getting to stop at the condor farm along the way. For all I know, the condor farm has an official name but I don’t know what it is. It’s one of those things locals tell you about but you won’t find in the guidebooks. It’s basically a small farm with some pretty cool local animals. There is no entrance fee but they ask for a donation at the end of the tour.

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Apparently, this is a big no-no, but Lisa likes to live on the edge. I snapped a picture before she was gobbled up.

After the condor farm, we made our way to Pisac. The town of Pisac is tiny and easy to walk around. We simply asked someone to point us in the direction of the the main plaza and that’s how we stumbled on the array of locals hawking their wares.

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Because everyone needs a pair of colorful sneakers.

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Hot.

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I don’t think this lady was too happy with me.

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I’m in love with this. It’s just so random.

And of course, I loved photographing the kids of Peru.

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The kids in traditional Peruvian dress will stick out their hands and say “propina” after you take a picture. That is how I learned my fifth spanish word. Propina, apparently, means tip.

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This kid became my best friend.

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After you visit the markets, you can hike up to the ruins overlooking Pisac or pay a taxi to take you to the top and walk down. We were a little ruined-out (and carrying quite a bit of purchases) so we hopped on a collectivo and made our way back to Cusco.

 

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Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)

Hotel points allow me to stay in hotels I never would be able to stay in otherwise. For some people, a bed is a bed no matter where they are. But I confess: I like luxury. I like being updated to a suite. Correction: I love being updated to a suite. I love sitting in a beautiful lobby, enjoying free wifi that actually works and relaxing on a sumptuous couch.

I loved our hotel in Cusco. Especially after the damp, dank excuse for a hotel we stayed at in Aguas Calientes.

After our visit to Machu Picchu, we made our way to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas, located at a breathtaking 11,500 feet. Cusco overflows with its Inca and colonial past. And our hotel in Cusco was no different.

SPG’s Palacio del Inka is located in central Cusco, a seven minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, in an old monastery. The entire hotel reaks of colonial elegance – medieval columns, rich, dark colors, velvet upholstery, ornate decorations, and stone floors.

Cusco map

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When we checked in, I was pleasantly surprised to find out we had been upgraded to a suite despite my lack of status. The suite consisted of two separate rooms — a separate living room area with a couch, desk, chairs and a television, and the bedroom — which had its own television. And get this — we had two bathrooms!

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The living room part of our suite

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The bedroom

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The master bathroom

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The view of Cusco from our window

Needless to say, we had an amazing stay. Thank you Starwood!

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Part 1: Getting To The Sacred Valley is Not Easy

[Note: We are still in Peru and we are having an amazing time. Although few people speak English, we are getting by and it is beautiful. But more about all that later.]

Getting to Lima, Peru is not a big deal. If you live in any major city you can probably find a non-stop flight to Lima, or a flight with a short stopover (as was the case for me).

Getting to the Sacred Valley requires a lot more effort.

First, the flight to Panama City was pleasant and comfortable. I flew Copa Airlines which uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dulles Airport – the same Lufthansa lounge I used on my trip to Paris in 2012. The seats were comfortable, the food and drinks were plentiful, and the wifi worked. No complaints here.

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The business class seats were more like domestic business class seats – wider seats, deeper recline – but no lie-flat seats. My flight took off at 4:30 p.m. so going to sleep wasn’t much of an option anyways. I downloaded a couple of books on my iPad and enjoyed the luxury of being able to sit comfortably and actually move my feet.

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Apologies for the crappy iPhone picture.

I was a little nervous about my 47 minute connection in Panama, but the flight landed on time, and as I disembarked, the gate for my connecting flight to Lima was literally next door. My entire visit to the Panama airport consisted of me getting off one plane, walking a couple of feet to buy an obscenely expensive bottle of water, and then getting on another.

When we landed in Lima at one in the morning, that’s when the real fun started. I went through immigration and got my luggage easy enough, but I had a 7:30 a.m. flight to Cusco, and all I wanted to do was recheck my luggage, find the lounge, and go to sleep.

The check-in area was a mess. I speak exactly four Spanish words/phrases (hello, thank you, what’s your name, and bathroom). I finally found someone who spoke enough English for me to understand that Avianca check-in was closed and would open in half-an-hour. So I got on line. As I waited, I noticed weary travelers sleeping pretty much everywhere and in every contorted position possible. I prayed the lounge would be more comfortable.

As soon as the line started moving I made a beeline for an Avianca employee and said “business class.” She took me to the front of the line, and I silently thanked my miles for allowing me this luxury.

Finally, after checking in and going through security, I found the domestic lounge. I did my research in advance and discovered that the Lima airport has a Priority Pass lounge in the domestic area, so I called up Chase and asked for my free Priority Pass card – just one of the perks of having the Chase Ink Bold credit card. I’m allowed two free Priority Pass visits (all subsequent visits are $29), so I planned to use one on the way to Cusco, and one on the way home from Lima.

But when I get to the domestic lounge, my heart sunk. It was tiny – the size of a crappy New York City studio, or maybe even smaller. To make matters worse, there were three televisions and they were all playing Spanish soap operas – at two in the morning!

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Spanish soaps!

I did the only thing I could. I moved two chairs together, set my alarm, plugged in my earphones and nodded off to sleep. Lo and behold, when I woke up at 6 a.m., the Spanish soaps were still on!

The Avianca flight to Cusco was similarly pleasant. Business class looked very much the same, and I had the row to myself. The short one-hour flight is filled with stunning mountainous views, and I managed to take a few pictures despite my sleep-deprived state.

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The Cusco airport is pretty much a big room with conveyer belts for baggage and a bunch of tourists companies, taxis, and hotels hawking their services in Spanish. [Not to Peruvians: I am pasty white. There is an excellent chance that you can tell I don’t speak Spanish just by looking at me. If you want to increase your chances of me listening to your pitches, make them in English.]

When my friend arrived an hour later, we went through our usual routine of complaining about how exhausted we were and then went outside to find our driver. I had arranged for a driver and made a $20 deposit via pay pal with KB Tours, a very respectable tour company according to trip advisor.

He wasn’t there, so we waited. And waited. And waited. We tried to call, but the phone number listed in our Lonely Planet book didn’t work, and there is no phone number on the website. Half-nervous and half-pissed, we went back inside and asked the representative for our Urubamba hotel for some advice choosing a taxi. We had read enough accounts of people getting kidnapped by rogue taxi drivers – which is why we had arranged for a driver in the first place. [Note: KB Tours refunded our deposited very quickly after we emailed them.]

He was incredibly helpful and informed us that the woman in the yellow vest will put us in an official taxi. She pointed out to us the taxi’s official ID number and I took pictures of his ID number and license plate just to be safe (paranoid much?).  The one-hour drive was pleasant and the views were beautiful.

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Not a bad photo for shooting out the window of a taxi as it winds its way down a mountain.

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Ditto.

Needless to say, we were not kidnapped, and one hour later, we arrived at our amazing hotel exhausted, but otherwise in one piece. Our adventure had begun.

 

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