Location Sacred Valley Peru | Dates June 24-25 | Accommodation Inka King
There is a lot to do outside Cusco. From the Sacred Valley, to rainbow mountain to ruins, there are no lack of options. Choosing can be hard, but after researching I knew I wanted to go to the sacred valley for attractive ruins, Sunday markets in Chinchero and Pisaq (I could actually go on Sunday!), and stunning valley views. I also kept hearing rainbow mountain is not as advertised (a beautiful, vibrant, multicolored mountain accessed via nice trek), but instead a strenuous and dangerous trek on which you want to die, to a dull/faded mountain clearly photoshopped in photos.
While I always prefer to do it myself, after researching transportation logistics it seemed visiting sacred valley would be difficult on my own (public transport lacking; taxis expensive), as would seeing multiple places in the 1 day I had before Machu Picchu. And so, I signed up for the tour through my hostel. MISTAKE #1. Which they cancelled at 8:45pm the night before. After ten minutes of anger and disappointment, it suddenly occurred to me I could rebook through another agency. So I ran outside (literally) in my pajamas and into the nearest random office, right before it closed at 9. MISTAKE #2. Luckily, the “nice” man said they tour was going and they could take me — but wait! They had a special tour that was better for me as I planned to get off early and stay in the town with the MP train station. I was hesitant, but he upsold me promising I’d see my most important sights. MISTAKE #3.
Known for its weaving and textiles, as well as it’s Sunday market which still preserves an authentic feel with locals coming in from the mountains to barter for food and vegetables. Chinchero also boasts ruins, interesting in that they were altered by the Spanish during colonization, with the natural cobblestone foundations of the Incas left beneath the stark, white painted straight structures the Spanish added.
Tour Promised | An authentic textile weaving demonstration, time to shop at the Sunday market, and time to explore the ruins.
What Happened | We began at a textile weaving demonstration, wildly touristy in a made-for-tourists shop/demonstration area. A girl dressed in traditional clothing, apparently for our benefit, demonstrated making yarn from alpaca wool, various colored dyes (what plants and parasites (!) they use), and why the Inca never had grey hair — something I’d been wondering as many of the older Quechua women had no grey hairs. They use a root that makes soap and prevents it from going grey! We then “paused” in the overpriced tourist shop (3x length of demonstration). Naturally, someone on the tour bought like 20 items.
We next walked up the narrow alley towards the Chinchero ruins, pausing to look at potatoes growing and a brief and awful explanation by our guide “Richard.” Then, we had FIVE MINUTES to explore the entire ruins – “that’s all you need” Richard said. I legitimately ran down the entire staircase to get a good view, then tried to run back up and nearly passed out. Soon after Richard started yelling at us to come back. We headed to the small square, where other groups were exploring and visiting the beautiful church. We did not visit the church. Richard yelled again – don’t get behind – hurry – stay together – and rushed us out.
At this point I realized we were not going to the market (the selling point of the tour for me), so I determined I’d walk quickly ahead and check it out briefly. Richard saw me running, asked me what I was doing, and then begrudgingly allowed me to go to the market for “2 minutes.” I went into the market and glimpsed the stalls, ladies in traditional garb bartering. It was amazing and what I hoped, but I had little time to explore. Naturally, even after walking the entire market and taking photos I got back to the bus prior to half the tour participants slowly walking/peeing/buying crap.
One of the destinations not on a traditional sacred valley tour, but one I actually wanted to see. Ruins in perfectly aligned concentric circles, in a valley in the mountain.
Tour Advertised | Visit to this traditional ruin, with time to explore.
What Happened | It was quite far on a rocky road, and I understood why visiting alone would be impossible. We got out and stood above the stunning vista. After another god-awful “explanation” by Richard, we got twenty minutes (so generous) to explore this ruin. How generous! I quickly ascended the path, determined to do the entire circuit in crunched time. I circled (LOL) down around the main circle, then back up to the other 2 circles which were more rustic – and not so perfect. Turns out the main ruin from tourist images actually isn’t original and was restored 15 years ago.
Salt mines and accompanying town, boasting the pink salt. I was not very interested.
Tour Promised | An included visit to the amazing salt mines.
What Happened | We started at the town, dumped into a tourist store for 20 minutes to “shop” in this tiny area for wildly overpriced things – a chocolate bar 15 soles – more than my entire 4-course dinner in Cusco! I immediately walked outside to explore the town. A cute main plaza was at center with a statue, and some narrow yellow streets with houses set against a beautiful mountain backdrop. I took photos, walked across the street and bought a snack of large cooked corn kernels (Inca Corn) for ⅓ the price of the tourist shop, and made it back to the bus prior to half the group…
We then headed to the salt mines, which were not included after all. “Do we have to go?” I asked Richard. “You don’t want to go?” he replied. “Not really.” Me and another woman were left by the entry gate, and sat for an hour in the valley while everyone else was ferried through. Gotta stay on budget!
A city located in a beautiful spot right in the middle of the sacred valley, surrounded by canyons.
Tour Promised | Optional lunch in town. You can bring your own and explore if you do not want to eat at the tourist restaurant.
What Happened | The lunch spot wasn’t in town at all, but way up on a hill secluded from anything. Of course, I walked in the mountain streets nonetheless in search of photos and some of the local culture. Everyone else remained back (obviously no one else choose to bring their lunch — which I had to eat outside the restaurant). At this point it was clear I hated the tour and the guide hated me back.
A ruin site of the Incas formerly used for military, religious and agricultural purposes. Steep stone steps lead up to the ruins (150 steps in total), as it’s built up on the mountain and quite expansive.
Tour Promised | A stop to visit this town and ruins.
What Happened | I planned to exit the tour after the ruins, as I was staying in Ollantaytambo for the night to catch my Machu Picchu train the next morning. However, I couldn’t get away fast enough and ditched them straight away. After dropping my bag at my hostel I explored on my own taking a route to the far right rather of the ruins than straight up to avoid the majority of tourists. I also hiked the steep mountain at back, getting an incredible view of the entire town and additional ruins.
I spent some time in town at the market (very touristy, right below the ruins entrance), walking the cute alleys, sampling the local drink of coca sour (made with coca leaves and pisco – so good!) and eating the cheapest menu I could find (half-priced once I wandered a few blocks off the main square).
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