We have been dreaming about Peru for a long time. It is one of those destinations that is a must do in a lifetime. From exciting cities over creative fusion food, mesmerising landscapes, thousands of years of old cultures to surfing, there is so much to discover in this diverse country. Therefore, we were very excited when we booked our first tour with Exploor Peru (www.exploorperu.com) to discover the area around Cusco. They offer various exciting expeditions in different parts of Peru. We decided to go on a 4 days exploration to Machu Picchu, to the Sacred Valley, to the Rainbow Mountain and to the Humantay Lake. The booking process with Exploor Peru is very smooth and they are very helpful!
Day 1: Sacred Valley
We got picked up from our our hotel and went for the first stop to a traditional textile market. We were able to feed some Alpacas and Lamas whose wool has been used for the garment production for centuries. Then, the locals demonstrated the entire process from washing the wool, dying it with natural colours to producing the thread for the textile. The whole process is handmade without a single machine and absolutely chemical and synthetic free.
If you were thinking of buying some textiles, this is your place. We bought two pullovers and a poncho for about 60€. They are made out of 50% alpaca wool and 50% sheep wool.
Afterwards, Luis from Exploor Peru took us to Moray. Moray is an old Inka agriculture research place, where the Inkas tested farming of different crops under various conditions. The Incas built the agriculture terraces in circles, so the sun hits different areas at different times allowing the research at varying temperatures. The architecture technique was highly advanced and impressive at that time.
The Exploor Peru team took us afterwards to the town of Ollantaytambo which is an old Inca village with an impressive temple. The Incas built the temple with huge granite blocks. They carved the blocks from rocks of a mountain and transported the 20-30 ton blocks up and down the mountain to get them to the temple. The achievement is very impressive and the landscape fantastic.
After visiting a small Cicha brewing house, we went for lunch! Our final stop for the day were the famous salt terraces of Maras. They are in a valley where an underground saline spring fills terrace pools that originated during the formation of the Andes. In those pools, the Water evaporates and leaves the salt to collect. The production started in the pre-Inca time and the locals still harvest the salt as hundreds of years ago.
Day 2: Machu Picchu
Our trip to world-famous Machu Picchu started quite early as we were staying in Cusco. The other option is to stay closer to the ancient Inca town such as in Ollantaytambo or Agua Calientes. Exploor Peru picked us up and brought us to the town of Ollantaytambo to catch the train deep into the Andes mountains. The train Vistadome had beautifully designed cars with extra windows on the ceiling to be able to see the mountains from the seat. The landscape is absolutely stunning. It goes through tight valleys along a river with small villages, Inca terraces and spectacular mountains on the way. The trip itself is already a highlight that should not be missed. After arriving in Aguas Calientes, we took a bus up the mountain to the entrance of the ancient town of Machu Picchu on 2,430m altitude.
There are nowadays different walking routes available within the ancient city. We took the route to the highest view point from where we had the first breathtaking view of Machu Picchu. The beauty of the Urubamba River valley surrounding the ancient town as well as the round shaped mountains is unique and one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. After we enjoyed the view, we slowly made our way down to the actual ancient town. Meanwhile our guide gave us the historic background to help us understand better.
Besides Machu Picchu itself, it is also possible to climb the Huayna Picchu and the Machu Picchu mountain to get spectacular views from above. However, for those mountains, extra tickets are required.
TIPS FOR MACHU PICCHU:
- Buy your tickets in advance
- If you are planning to go by train, book in advance as well
- Bring your passport with you, you can even get an stamp
- Wear long pants. There are mosquitoes in the area
- If you don’t want to hike, you can take the bus from Aguas Calientes for 12€ one way
- Going after 12pm isn’t a bad thing since most of the people go for sunrise. However, during rainy season it is usually cloudy early in the morning
Das 3: Rainbow Mountain
The third day we started at 3am in order to be first at the famous rainbow mountain on 5,036m above sea level. The drive took about 4h including a breakfast. When we arrived at the mountain, it was covered in thick clouds and there was snow on the ground. Our Exploor Peru guide Carlos, however, was totally relaxed and confident it would clear up. The hike takes between 1-1,5h and is from approximately 4,700m to 5,036m in altitude. Make sure, you have acclimatized well before doing this hike.
Carlos guided us up the mountain and indeed, after half an hour on top, it cleared up a little bit. For the first time, we were able to see the different colours caused by different minerals such as sulfur, iron, magnesia and copper. It is very impressive to see!
On the mountain, there are locals selling hot coffee, tea and soup which helped warming up. Furthermore, there are some Lamas and Alpacas to cuddle and take photos with for a tip to the locals. After a while on the top, we started making our way down and due to the cleared air, we were able to see the beautiful landscape with green hills, colourful mountains and glaciers.
Despite the mountain being covered most of the time, the trip was amazing as the landscape is beautiful and worth visiting even without the famous mountain view.
Day 4: Humantay Lake
We were very much looking forward to the Humantay Lake tour as we were happy to go on another hike in the beautiful Andean nature of Peru. We started the day once again very early to escape the crowds. Including the breakfast break on the way, it took about 4h to reach the bottom of the mountains.
The hike took us along a small creek from about 3,800m up to 4,200m with some great views along the way. It is in parts quite steep and the altitude also stresses the body. The hike takes normally about 1,5h to reach the top. On the way, you can meet cows, Alpacas and various kind of birds.
The highlight, however, is the lake itself. The brilliant green and blue colour as well as the snow-capped mountain backdrop are spectacular. The colours of the lake originate from the mineral-filled glaciar run-off. It is one of the most beautiful places we have visited.
Overall, we had a fantastic time with Exploor Peru. They are very well organized, know how to avoid the crowds and provided us with unforgettable memories.
Tips for a successful altitude acclimatization
It is crucial to allow enough time for your body to adjust to the altitude when you are over 2,500m – 3,000m. Therefore, we recommend to spend a minimum of 3 days in Cusco / Machu Picchu before heading to the Rainbow mountain or Humantay Lake. Here some good tips to avoid altitude sickness:
- Drink coca tea
- Stay hydrated all the time
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Listen carefully to your body
- Take your time to acclimatise
How to get around in Peru
The distances are big and the roads cross mountain ranges and valleys. For this reason, travelling on the road is quite strenous. Our strategy was to fly to bigger cities and then either book a tour, such as with Exploor Peru, or get a driver to bring us to different locations (mostly shorter and better accessible ones).
The other option is to book with a bus company, such as Peru Hop (www.peruhop.com), that covers distances and includes some tours as well. The buses of Peru Hop are very clean, rated to be the safest bus company in Peru and it is all well organized, so we can recommend them as well! You will meet amazing people along the way to share adventures and fun.
If you are interested in more exotic holiday destinations, please check our Thailand blog post (Thailand is more than beaches)