Bee’s holidays started, so we got time to explore more of Peru. Cusco was our base for trips throughout the Incan homeland. Our apartment was situated at around 3390 m / 11100 ft, which was the highest place I have lived in, since I spent a summer in Ladakh, many years ago, at roughly the same altitude. The Andes here sometimes reminded me of those parts of the Himalayas, but it seemed greener here and the tree line was higher as well.
We lived in the Centro Histórico of Cusco, which has lots of charm. You find here a lot of boutique-ish restaurants, hotels, hostels and shops. There are also an endless amount of travel agencies and unfortunately a lot of people trying to hard sell you tours in the Peruvian highlands or a massage on the street. Cusco has a steady flow of tourists coming in and it can get pretty busy at times. We had our favorite meals at the restaurants Aulita, Carpe Diem, and Chia Vegan, and our favorite IPA was the Inti Punku at the Cerveceria Del Valle Sagrado, which we usually had after a long day of hiking when coming back into town.
When we arrived in Cusco, we tried to acclimatize for 3 days. We did as little as possible in order to slowly get used to the altitude. After that, we explored the Sacred Valley and visited the Incan sites of Chinchero, Moray, the salt mines in Maras, Ollantaytambo and Pisac, all of which are worth visiting.
Our first hike took us on a day trip to the 7 lakes of Ausangate, where we reached around 4700 m / 15400 ft, while we walked past the beautiful turquoise lakes and took a dip in the local thermal water.
On our second hiking trip, we went to Rainbow Mountain, where we reached around 5040 m / 16500 ft, according to my watch’s altimeter. The Peruvian highlands attract a lot of tourists from all over the world and of course so does this natural phenomenon. The many tourists didn’t spoil the experience though. The walk up to Rainbow Mountain itself, alongside mountains in different shades of colors, is worth it. Be sure to make a brief visit to the Red Valley, as the red mountains of this valley are breathtaking and there were hardly any other hikers there.
We also went on a 2-day hike to Humantay Lake and Salkantay Lake. We slept in a glass dome in between those hikes. The first hike up to Lake Humantay (at 4200 m / 13800 ft) was relatively easy. That said, nothing is really easy at that altitude if you walk uphill. Humantay Lake was a beautiful site. The views on our way up to Salkantay Lake, on the second day, did not disappoint either. The mountains were majestic and we did not encounter a single human soul apart from our small group of 4 people on the way up and down. We climbed from the camp at 4000 m / 13000 ft to Salkantay Lake at 4800 m / 15700 ft in a little over 3 hours, starting at the crack of dawn. Our guide made an offering to the Andean gods at the lake, and after that, we went down past the camp to the pickup place for our ride back to Cusco. This hike was more challenging, in part because of the time constraints, since the road out of the valley closes at 1:00 pm.
Our last hike was the icing on the cake of all our hikes in Peru. We were picked up by a car at 4:00 am and taken to the railway station at Ollantaytambo. We rode the train to station “Km 104” where we and two more hikers plus our guide started the hike on the Inca Trail. The same trail was used by the Chasquis, the Incan messengers who transported messages over thousands of kilometers throughout the Incan empire. These highly-fit messengers covered the distance of about 20 km between the relay stations on foot in a short time, and thereby could not only pass on important messages but make sure that the Incan emperor had a fresh catch of fish from the Peruvian coast within a day at his disposal! The trail felt pretty easy to walk for me, also because it was partly on the edge of the jungle, in the shade, and at a lower altitude. We passed by a picturesque waterfall and made a stop at the beautiful historic Inca site of Wiñay Wayna. Walking on stones placed by the Incas a long time ago on this trail felt special, even more so when we passed Inti Punku and got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, was not only one of the main entrances to Machu Picchu but during summer solstice the rising sun shines from here right into one window of the sun temple in Machu Picchu. We arrived at the plateau above Machu Picchu in the early afternoon. The view from there was amazing. After sleeping the night in the town of Aguas Calientes we came back the next day to explore the town of Machu Picchu further. The mountains surrounding Machu Picchu are gorgeous and the whole site is enchanting. In the afternoon we took the Vistadome train back to Ollantaytambo. The train runs along the Urubamba River and through the many windows you get spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. This was definitely one of the most scenic train rides I have ever taken.
We enjoyed our time here in the Incan homeland a lot and would definitely come back to do some more hiking!