Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
Things to do:
- Machu Picchu: Hike up or take a bus, then walk around and explore these incredible ancient Incan ruins. I highly recommend going before sunrise so you can watch the sun come up over the mountains and beat the crowds. Seeing Machu Picchu without anyone else there is incredibly erie and powerful.
- Huayna Picchu: This is the mountain just behind Machu Picchu, which you can hike up for unbelievable views. It's also the site of some more remote Incan ruins. If you go, you should also hike across the mountain (about 3 hours round trip) to see the Grand Cavern.
- Hot Springs: Natural hot springs where locals go to swim, hangout, and drink. It feels awesome, but can get a little grubby if you stay late in the day.
- Mercado de Artesanias: Market place with food, drinks, shops, hand-made goods, and art.
Where to eat and drink:
Things to do:
- Plaza de Armas: Beautiful center of town with cathedrals, museums, a fountain, street vendors, and gardens.
- Cusco Cathedral Basilica: I highly, highly recommend going and getting a tour. There is so much history in this church and you should hear it all! Built over one of the most holy Incan religious sites as a sign of power, this massive cathedral is packed with imagery incorporating Christianity into traditional Incan beliefs.
- La Compañia de Jesus Basilica: Ancient capital of the Incan empire, built on the site of an important Incan palace, right across from the Cusco Cathedral.
- Take a bus tour or rent a car to see the sites just outside Cusco city limits, such as La Iglesia San Cristobal, Cristo Blanco (also has incredible views of the city), and the Sacsayhuaman Incan ruins.
- Plaza San Blas: Another open plaza area with cultural sites, vendors, museums, and great views of the mountains.
- Museum of Precolombian Art: Art and artifacts from before the colonization of Peru.
- Iglesia Santa Clara: Walls are covered in mirrors to reflect light, which was used to capture the attention of indigenous people and entice them to come in.
- La Iglesia Santa Theresa y Covenant: This was built as the first covenant for nuns in Peru, and today it's a museum that tells what life was like at that time.
- Sacred Valley tour: The Sacred Valley is a little ways out of Cusco, but offers incredible historical sites and views including Pisaq, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo.
Where to eat and drink:
- Mythology: A great club and bar. If you go early in the evening it's exclusively salsa dancing (so, so fun) and if you go a little later it's like an American club/bar. Plus girls get first drink free, which is pretty convenient!
- Jardín Secreto: Traditional restaurant offering great Peruvian dishes.
- Sumaq Misky: Traditional foods with an adventurous twist -- really interesting and tasty!
Where I stayed:
- I stayed with a host family while I was here in a neighborhood close to the Plaza de Armas. I would highly recommend staying as close as you can to the Plaza though, as it will give you easy access to most of the things you'll want to see and do!
Foods and Drinks to Try:
Llomo Saltado: One of my favorite dishes! Stir fry with meat, onion, tomato, and rice. Often served with fries.
Cuy: it's guinea pig...which is tough to get past, but it's considered a Peruvian delicacy and is certainly an experience!
Aji de Gallina: Another of my favorites. A classic Peruvian dish with a creamy soup made from walnuts and yellow peppers, served with rice, potatoes, boiled egg, and meat.
Mate de Coca: This tea is served at almost every meal, and is hugely helpful with altitude sickness. Plus, it's delicious!
Pisco Sour: Traditional Peruvian cocktail with Pisco, lemon, whipped egg white, and a drop of brandy on top so it looks like an egg when you look down on it. They're delicious and so refreshing!
If you're going to Cusco or Machu Picchu, you may want to talk to your doctor about altitude sickness. The elevation is much higher than most places in the States, and can cause headaches and nausea. Mate de Coca really helps with this if you want to go a more natural route.
See "taxis" under transportation.
As always, be aware of your valuables/purse/wallet/passport at all times, as pick pocketing is common.
Ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host which areas are safe and unsafe to travel at night before wandering around on your own.
Transportation in Peru:
Taxis: This also goes as a safety tip. While there are plenty of taxis in any major city, you absolutely must be sure that they have an official taxi sign and that the license number on the sides matches the number on the license plate. You can get in some serious trouble if you get in a taxi that does not have the proper markings.
Buses are a very easy and inexpensive way to get from city to city. You can also take a flight pretty cheaply!