Cusco and Machu Picchu in 72 hours
Peru is at the top of many people’s bucket lists and for good reason. Between Machu Picchu, the unique Andean culture, Lake Titicaca and the urban bliss of Lima, there is much to explore in this South American gem. While 72 hours is certainly not enough to see the entire country, it is enough to see Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Day 1: A drive through the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo
At 11,152 feet, once you hop off the plane in Cusco, you will probably feel the change in altitude unless you are used to life this high. Not sure what an altitude of 11,152 feet means, well at 10,000 feet, the airplane wifi becomes available, so imagine that!
Your day should start with a 9 am arrival in the Cusco airport from which you should take some coca leaves which should be on offer at some of the taxi stands. Find your driver and start heading into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Our guide/driver William was absolutely fantastic, so do give him a call or email him if you are in need (+51968383961; Ecomachupicchu@gmail.com). Tell him Jessica sent you!
The drive through the valley is a picturesque one and best done with a driver who is patient and willing to stop at a moment’s notice. If you drive straight to Ollantaytambo, the drive is two hours, but I suggest a few stops.
A stop at Tika Huerta, a small textile production center run by women is an absolute must on your itinerary. The women who are very kind and full of energy take their time to explain to you every bit of the process of creating the beautiful woven pieces that they of course will try to sell you in the end. From the shampoo to the coloring to the weaving these women don’t miss a beat with showing their pride and expertise in this field.
While we did not have the chance to stop in Moray, it is worth a visit. Moray is an archaeological site which as with many other Inca ruins shows the sophisticated engineering that was a marker of their society.
After a few hours in the car and following lots of picture taking and sightseeing, you will arrive in Ollantaytambo, a very quiet and quaint town during the low season. You can check into your hotel directly and head out immediately to sit down for lunch. We stayed at La Casa del Abuelo Riverside which was very simple, cheap, clean, comfortable beds and had a very good breakfast. They even packed us breakfast to take when we took an early train to Machu Picchu. While in Ollantaytambo be sure to have a meal at Uchucuta. The rolled chicken with mushrooms was amazing and I had what was hands down the best pisco sour of the entire trip.
Like many places in the Sacred Valley there are also Inca ruins in Ollantaytambo. The city, which used to be a retreat for Inca royalty and nobility, is where the Incas fought some of their last battles, resisting Spanish conquest from the still intact fortress and staggered terraces rising up around the town. The top of the ceremonial center is the perfect place for panoramic views of the Sacred Valley.
Day 2: Machu Picchu
We all know what you went to Cusco for! To get the best experience at Machu Picchu (read: how to avoid tourists) do not visit during high season, which is July and August. Our trip at the end of April was seemingly perfect. Good weather and our pictures aren’t littered with tourists. In an effort to avoid tourists it is a good idea to take the first train out of Ollantaytambo. The Perurail train leaves at 5:35am. There are a few choices with regard to class of service on Perurail. The early train is the Expedition service which is the lowest price and the train that we took. It is clean, comfortable and they even give you a little snack. If you want to be a little fancier, take the Vistadome back. It is more comfortable, there are tablecloths and even a fashion show!
When you arrive in Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu, you will need to hop on a bus to go to the famed site. The bus is a separate ticket. When we were there the cost was $25 USD round trip.
How much time do you need at Machu Picchu? This is up to you and how much you want to explore. It also depends on if you are able to snag tickets to Huayna Picchu, a two hour hike which gets you the best views of ruins. Be sure to book your tickets for Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in advance. There is a limited number of tickets sold, so when you buy your flight, buy your tickets. This website is great to see how many tickets are available. So if you are doing Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, I would recommend that you plan to spend at least five hours at the site. If you do not have the chance to do the second trail, then three hours may be enough (especially for those that are looking to just capture their iconic pictures and leave). If you are interested in learning about the history and seeing the ins and outs of the complex, you could easily spend five hours there without hiking Huayna Picchu.
After leaving Machu Picchu, you can grab a bite to eat in Aguas Calientes, prior to hopping on your train back to Ollantaytambo. Once back in Ollantaytambo, grab a few drinks at one of many places offering happy hour before crashing following a long day of hiking.
Day 3: Exploring the Sacred Valley and Cusco
Wake up early on this last day in Ollantaytambo, pack your things, grab breakfast and head out! I suggest booking your driver in advance so that he can be there when you’re ready to go. For the trip back to Cusco, you can head back on a different route so that you can explore a few different locations such as the thermal baths in Lares or Pisaq for a bit of souvenir shopping.
A stop on the roadside in Lomay will give you a chance to try quy better known as guinea pig, a local delicacy. Cuy in Lomay is roasted on a stick which is quite particular to this city. I tried a tiny piece, Elton was more adventurous!
A stop at Awana Kancha is a must if you are looking to hang out with a few furry creatures, including Llamas, Alpacas and a few of their other cousins.
Once back in Cusco, check into your hotel, drink some coca tea and explore the city. Plaza de Armas is a perfect jumping off point to see the beauty of this city in the sky. Take your time to explore the museums and alleyways. That difficulty in breathing will force you to move slowly. It certainly slowed me down.
If looking for the perfect spot for dinner, make a reservation at Chicha, a restaurant by Gaston Acurio, a world famous Peruvian chef. The food was AMAZING! From the appetizers to the mains to the pisco sours, we had no complaints. In fact we ate dinner there two nights in a row.
Have you been to Cusco and Machu Picchu? Did you love it?