KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
LANGUAGE: Spanish is the most prevalent language spoken. Brush up on common phrases to help while exploring the city. We downloaded a translation app, which was very useful in the markets and outside of the touristy areas.
CURRENCY: Peruvian Sol. Restaurants, hotels, and larger store fronts will accept a credit card, but cash is the preferred method of payment. You will need cash for shopping in the markets, tips for your porters and guides and taxi fares.
WHEN TO GO: The winter (May-September) is the dry season and the most popular time to visit Peru. The summer (December- March) is the warmest time of year but marked with frequent storms and rain showers. If you are traveling to Peru to hike the Inca Trail, the trail is closed the entire month of February.
PERMIT: A permit is required to hike the Inca Trail and the number of hikers allowed on the trail pit can only be purchased by an Inca Trail Tour Operator. Only 500 permits are issued per day which includes hikers and crew. Permits sell out fast and must be purchased in advance.
ELEVATION: Altitude sickness is a concern when traveling to Cusco and Machu Picchu.
SAFETY: Travel around Peru is safe. Poverty is a widespread problem which opens the door for petty crime including pick pocketing and theft.
RESTAURANTS: Limo (excellent ceviche and views of Plaza de Armas), Marcelo Batata (alpaca steaks)
TRADITIONAL DISHES: Cuy (guinea pig), Alpaca, coca leaves
HOTELS: JW Marriott El Convento Cusco (where we stayed), Belmond Hotel Monasterio (luxury option), Tierra Viva Cusco Plaza (more budget friendly)
WHAT WE DID
To celebrate my father’s 60 birthday, my husband, brother and I arranged to check off an item on his bucket list: hiking the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Spending a full week in Peru, we spent two nights in Cucso before heading out on our 4 day/3 night Inca Trail hike.
We arrived in Cusco mid-morning after taking an over night flight to Lima and then a short morning flight to Cucso. We checked into our hotel, JW Marriott El Convento Cusco and could not have been more pleased with the service, accommodations and location of the hotel. A converted monastary occupying an entire city block in the heart of Cusco, the JW Marriott is full of historic grandeur with mordern comforts. Located just a few blocks from Cusco’s main square, Plaza de Armas, we could conveniently walk to explore the city.
We spent our afternoon exploring Cusco. Starting in Plaza de Armas, the city square, we toured the cathedral and enjoyed fresh ceviche on the balcony of Limo overlooking the bustling square. The remaining afternoon, we walked the cobblestone streets and shopped in the local wool markets for souvenirs.
Wanting to try a local dish of alpaca, we headed to Marcelo Batata for dinner. One of their house specialities is a grilled alpaca steak serve with your choice of their housemade sauces. We each ordered a different sauce and topping to share.
On our first full day in Cusco, Alpaca Expeditions arranged for a private tour of the sacred valley. Stopping first at the Hawana Cancha Alpaca Farm, we enjoyed feeding the local llamas and alpacas, and then we went on to explore the Incan ruins of Pisaq, Urubama, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. In Chinchero, local women provide a tutorial on wool dying explaining how local natural ingredients are used to make the bold colors on Peru’s famous wool products.
Wanting to get a good night sleep before setting out on our hiking adventure in the morning, we enjoyed an early dinner at our hotel.
The next day, we were picked up bright and early (around 4:30am) from our hotel in Cucso to travel to Ollantaytambo to begin our 26 mile trek along the Inca trail. *You will need to have your passport with you to enter the trail.
A moderate hiking day, on the first day, we hiked for 6 hours traveling roughly 8 miles along the trail passing through several small communities along the way. We were floored by the service provided by the “green machine” on the first day and throughout our hiking adventure. The porters would race ahead, have our camp set for us upon arrival, and prepare all the meals.
One of the main reasons we were drawn to Alpaca Expeditions for our hiking adventure was their focus on ethical treatment of porters. Alpaca promises to provide better wages, proper equipment, sleeping bags and tents, health insurance and nutritious meals as well as family support for all of their porters.
The second full day of hiking was the most challenging. Covering almost 10 miles, we climbed to the highest altitude at Dead Woman’s Pass of 13,829 feet. Ascending down to Pacaymayu Valley, we rested up for the climb over the second mountain pass. Along the way there is a small Inca site to explore, Runcu Raccay, before reaching our campsite. Offering the most beautiful mountain view, this campsite was my personal favorite. Sadly, we were all too exhausted to enjoy the views and crashed right after our dinner.
Day three on the Inca trail was a more moderate hiking day, covering only 6 miles. This section of the Inca trail offered some of the most scenic trail views. We hiked through the cloud forest with goregous views of Salkantay mountain, the second highest peak in the Sacred Valley. The stone step trail is a steep descent and the stones can be slippery due to the moisture in the air. Watch your step!
Views of the Urubama River start to come into the view as we get closer to our final campsite. The trail flattens out and winds along the side of the mountain. Stay close to the inside of the trail if you are not a fan of heights!
We passed through the Intipata ruins (translates to terraces of the sun) and stopped to take a few pictures of the ruins and scenic views of the valley before arriving at our campsite for early afternoon for lunch.
After lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring the Winay Wayna ruins, one of the impressive Inca ruins yet. Alpacas roam the terraces and the sun begins to set behind the mountain range creating the most magical setting. That evening we toasted our team in celebrating our almost completion of the hike.
Unfortunately for our group, things went down hill that evening. We were all struck with either food posioning or a stomach bug. It was a long night with an early morning wake up call to finish our trek.
It was slow going to Machu Picchu. When you are sick on the trail, unfortunately, you are forced to power through until the end. When we finally reached Machu Picchu, we were not up for exploring but did manage to snap a few pictures before heading to Angus Calientes to catch our train back to Cusco.
Food poisoning aside, hiking the Inca Trail was truly a once in a life time opportunity! We are so thankful to be able to share this experience with my dad and help him cross off one of his bucket list items.
On a return trip to Peru, we would love to explore Rainbow Mountain, visit the floating villages of Lake Titicaca and catch a glimpse of the famous Nacza Lines. All the more reason to plan a return trip to this amazing South American country!