The flight to Cuzco was really beautiful – we flew over incredible mountain ranges, which were home to little pockets of villages and communities seemingly insulated from the rest of the world. As we flew into Cuzco, I immediately noticed the colorful vibe it had to it – although most of the city was made of brick, a lot of the buildings were painted with vibrant colors.
When we touched down, I noticed how much slower and calmer everyone was compared to Lima; nobody seemed in a rush.
The first thing we did was go to the Plaza de Armas, where we walked around to get a feel for the city. I really appreciated the small shops, along with the eye-catching architecture of some of the buildings.
We slowly made our way to the artisan market, wher we sat down and enjoyed coca tea to counter the cold. After, we shopped around, getting different sort of “Alpaca wool” products (they are all fake).
Today we decided to do the Sacred Valley tour, which is a tour around some of the arcehological sites nearby Cuzco. Our guide had actually retired after being a guide for 16 years in Machu Picchu.
On the ride to the first site, he told us stories about how Machu Picchu is still an active site for the Incas. When Machu Picchu used to be open in the night, he was walking around after giving a tour. He was alone in a somewhat isolated part of the site. He said he then saw a lady in a white dress, floating from the ground. However, she quickly disappeared.
He said that he still prays there - take 3 coca leaves, and point them in the direction of a mountain. Then blow on them, and put them down somewhere alone in the site. This will grant you what you wish for.
As we continued to drive, it was interesting to see how dense it was inside the city, but somehow most of the buildilngs seemed incomplete. There were foundations still being laid, and some had floors that weren't complete. As we drove away from the city, the buildings became more sparse.
Our first stop was Chinchero. We were first introduced witha plaza where many locals were selling more types of Alpaca wool. In the background, you could see the beautiful rolling hills of terraces. The entire site is perched high in the mountains - even higher than Cuzco.
Behind the plaza was the church, which is still active and holds mass regularly. Inside, many frescas were still in amazing condition.
In the distance, a large plot of cleared land is clearly visible. Our tour guide told us that it was for developing the new Cuzco International airport. He told us that he was very worried about how the culture will change - hotels will spring up, and it will become a large city. This probably means a lot of the locals won’t be able to afford to stay around.
Our next stop was the Moray Terraces. It was incredible to see how the Incas mirrored geometric shapes into their own practical purposes. In fact, the ruins were still used for farming until just recently.
After, we went back onto the bus to visit the Maras Salt Mines. To get there was truly an adventure in and of itself - the pathway down to the site was a tiny dirt path with a cliff on one side. Many large tour buses were trying to go down, but ultimately got stuck. We had to get off and walk in between the maze of cars to be able to visit the site.
The trek was more than worth it - the salt mines is a treasure within vast mountain ranges that extend for miles. To see how locals meticulously worked the mines to get the salt was also incredible.
After, we went to Ollantaytambo. It seemed as if the small town was in the middle of nowhere. It was incredible to see how they were able to build such an extravagent fortress and Sun temple on such a steep cliff.
Our next stop was the Pizaq market. To get there, we had to drive through many small villages, where many of the locals was hanging out in the streets. It was amazing to see how different their lifestyle is, where everything is more intimate within their community but you’re surrounded by these huge mountains. When we reached the Pizaq, we saw more amazing layered terraces. Here we watched the sun disappear behind the mountain ranges.
In the morning, we visited the San Blas area. The entire area was beautiful, with its windy streets lined with small local artisan shops. The streets were so tight that you had to be extremely careful when walking because a car could actually go by you within an inch.
From there, we walked through the main plaza to the San Pedro market. This is a huge market for both locals and tourists where they sold a huge variety of things - from the same alpaca souvenirs to fruits, vegetables, meat, and different drinks. The entire market was absolutely packed. We spent the rest of the morning exploring the variety of goods the locals were selling.
In the afternoon, we went on the City Tour. The first stop was the same Plaza de Armas. We went into the Cuzco Cathedral. Our guide told us many local traditions. For example, St. Anthony is the Lord of Lost things in Catholism. However, in Cuzco, he is also considered to be the matchmaker. Local women write their personal information onto small pieces of paper. Later in the day, local men will sneak over the barrier to try and get the information.
After, we went to the Santo Domingo Monastery. This place was almost at full capacity - it was really difficult to move in between the huge crowds of people. However, here we learned about the history of how the Spanish treated the Incas and their architecture.
Then we went to Qenqo Temple, where we learned about the rituals in which the Incas sacrificed children. The children would be given alcohol and haliciugens until they passed out, when they were suffocated in their sleep and laid down within the temple.
Our next stop was Sacsayhuamán. The huge stones, a few of which weighed over 100 tons, laid solidly within the wall. Because we came around the time of sunset, it was beautiful to see how the light filled the vast space. If you climb the wall and go to the other side, you can see an amazing panoramic view of Cuzco.