Our next stop was Cusco, Peru… one of the cities we were most excited for during the trip. We’d read a lot about Cusco and heard from tons of other travelers that it’s one of their favorite cities in South America. It’s also so popular because of its proximity to Machu Picchu. It’s a great place to spend a few days before Machu Picchu if you aren’t already accustomed to the high altitude. There are many different plazas, historical churches, markets, tour companies, and parts of town to visit. A lot of the cobblestone streets are only wide enough for one car at a time, but are two lane roads so there are constant traffic jams and standoffs between taxis. Cusco is where we first discovered the alpaca craze and that women still walk the streets with lamas on leashes. We spent over a week here and stayed at Backpacker La Bo'm, probably our absolute favorite hostel of the trip! For some reason in Cusco we seemed to forget we have a great camera because we barely took any photos of the city! For that reason, most of the photos on this post are of Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain.
We hung out in Cusco for the first couple days waiting to sign up for the Machu Picchu tour until Jon, Cayley, and some other friends arrived a couple days after us. I found an awesome yoga studio, The Yoga Room, and we spent a lot of time working on the blog at coffee shops and outdoor restaurants. We visited the huge local market, still running the opposite direction of the crazy and smelly meat section. Hundreds of booths were selling anything from alpaca sweaters and socks, to dried llama fetuses (said to be good luck), beautiful flower arrangements, freshly pressed juices, and concoctions like Florida Water (said to cure altitude sickness by smelling it) or Lovers Potion. The sound of local women yelling to win over our attention became music to our ears.
Once all our friends arrived in Cusco on Monday we stopped by a local tour company and signed up for the five day Salkantay Hike to Machu Picchu to start Thursday morning. The Inca Trail is the most famous trek, but has to be signed up for months in advance. Because we weren’t sure when we’d actually arrive in Cusco we weren’t able to book in advance, but it worked out perfectly because there's tons of tour companies and different options to get there. Depending on what you're looking for there's bus rides, quick train rides, or long hikes to get you to Machu Picchu.
Our group opted for the Salkantay Trek- a five day adventure to the Inca city that includes hiking, camping, zip lining, hot springs, etc. Unfortunately in the days before the hike I had an accident on a bike and we opted out of the five day hike due to a knee injury. We skipped the first two days of the trek because they involve the most hiking and we met the group on the third day by bus. Luckily we were able to partake in the zip lining and the hot springs. The afternoon of the fourth day ended the group in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu. It isn't a big town, but it's beautifully built into the mountains with a train that runs through the center of the community. Everyone is there for the same reason- to visit Machu Picchu.
On the morning of the fifth day everyone started the last portion of the hike to Machu Picchu at 4:30AM, while Ron and I boarded a bus that drove us directly to the entrance. The gate to Machu Picchu opens at 6AM and we wanted to be the first ones there. We were! Along with a few hundred other people! At the gate we reunited with our whole group, entered together, and headed to one of the temples to meet up with the guide that had led the group through the entire Salkantay Trek. The views of Machu Picchu and the Andes Mountains were like nothing we’ve ever seen and absolutely incredible! It's settled on a hilltop towering over the Urabama Valley below. The guide spent forty-five minutes explaining the history of Machu Picchu and then led us down the massive stone stairways into the Inca city for a two hour tour. The ancient stone structures and panoramic views were incredible. Not to mention some pretty awesome wild llamas wondering around. Once the two hour tour was complete we were able to explore on our own for as long as we wanted. We returned to Aguas Caliente in the afternoon and visited the natural hot springs with friends. A great way to end the day!
Rainbow Mountain. And now we backtrack a little. After the bike accident we had to miss out on the first two days of the Salkantay Trek. We had two free days in Cusco with no plans. Ron was able to go on a one day trek to Rainbow Mountain! The hike is five miles up to the summit and five miles back down. Along the route there are beautiful views of lush green hills and rivers, and snow capped mountains in the distance. At the peak you reach an altitude of 15,300 feet (just a few hundred feet less than Mount Everest base camp). The closer you get to the summit, the steeper the trail gets and the more you have to take breaks, but the end result is something you have to see to believe! The mountain is striped with colors! The colors are the result of the way different minerals settled over time, and the pattern is just incredible.
Next, on to Bolivia. Hefners out!
The view from our favorite coffee shop in Cusco.
We finally met up with our friends on the third day of the Salkantay Trek. The guys played volleyball while we waited to start the zip lining.
You can see the hanging bridge in the distance.
The long line in Aguas Calientes to get on the bus to Machu Picchu at 4:30AM. We were in the very front!
The line at the entrance to Machu Picchu at 6AM.
Walking down the stairs to the main gate. Surrounded by wild llamas.
The Temple of Three Windows.
The Southern Cross Stone.
The Stone Water Mirrors.
The Sacred Rock.
Wild llamas and alpacas.
Starting the hike.