Machu Picchu was high on both our bucket lists - so the last time we were working in Peru, we took some time off to enjoy one of the greatest wonders of the world. There are many ways to do Machu Picchu including trekking the great Inca Trail, but we opted for the shorter version so we could spend more time in Lima, Cusco and best of all, the Sacred Valley. Here are some of our top tips if you’re thinking about making the trip to one of the most beautiful places we've ever been:
You can do this trip with or without stopping in Lima, but we’re big fans of the culinary hotspot and highly recommend a pit stop here pre- or post-Machu Picchu, since you’re already in Peru. Even if you only go for one day, we recommend the following:
Plaza De Armas
- Also called Plaza Mayor, this broad square is the historical center of Lima and the most logical starting point for sightseeing. Most of the buildings from the original city were lost in the earthquake of 1746 - the only original structure standing in Lima's Plaza de Armas is the bronze fountain in the center, built in 1651. Its buildings reconstructed following the quake, Plaza de Armas is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Along with the cathedral, the square is surrounded by the Archbishop's Palace; the Casa del Oidor; and the Palacio del Gobierno, which is the official residence of the president and was built on the spot where Jose San Martín declared the Independence of Peru on July 28, 1821. You can see the changing of the guard there on weekdays at noon.
- It's in a sketchy neighborhood near a strip of auto repair shops. The restaurant is a room in chef Javier Wong's house. Plus, there's no menu. Chez Wong is still one of the best meals you'll ever have.
- Wong makes just a ceviche, tiradito (thinly sliced raw fish in sauce), and saltado (stir-fry) all using only the best quality Pacific sole, which he filets right in the dining room. If you don’t make a reservation you won’t get in, even there’s space.
- Beautiful parks and green spaces stretch along the cliff tops overlooking the water, and it's common to see hang gliders drifting from the cliffs above surfers in the waves below. Expect slightly higher prices in this more affluent neighborhood.
- In the heart of Miraflores, the pyramid-shaped temple of Huaca Pucllana lies and is now incongruously surrounded by buildings. Built of adobe and clay bricks - a construction material that would never have survived for more than 1,000 years in any other climate - the pyramid is formed in seven staggered platforms. The Lima Culture, by whom the pyramid was built, developed in the central coast of Peru between AD 200 and AD 700. From artifacts discovered here, it is known to have been important as both a ceremonial and administrative center. The area is divided into two sections, one of which shows evidence of being used for offerings of fish, while the other appears to have been administrative. A burial vault was uncovered here with human remains, and artifacts have been found from the later Wari culture, which thrived in this area from about AD 500 to 900. You must tour the complex with a guide, but the tours are quite inexpensive.
- In its three years as The Best Restaurant in Latin America, Central has been, well, central to Lima’s transformation into one of the globe’s must-visit dining destinations, while chef Virgilio Martínez has led a new generation of Peruvian cooks.
- Still in his 30s, Martínez has achieved much for his country’s gastronomy in recent years, helping to promote Peruvian cuisine around the world and working with his sister Malena’s research project, Mater Iniciativa, to help discover and educate on local agriculture and ingredients. An exploration of its country’s biodiversity, Central takes diners on a journey through every altitude, from 20 metres below sea level to 4,100 metres above it, in 17+ courses. The tasting menu is a reflection of Martínez and his sister’s research into ingredients in the Andes, the Amazon and the sea. Must have reservations.
Head to Cusco after you’re full and happy. Get ready to see some amazing stuff!
After you land in Cusco, we found that Cusco Transport was very helpful in getting us around and also showing us all the best spots in and around the Sacred Valley. Spend a few days in this area - so much beauty here! Here are our nearby favorites:
Moray is an Incan archaeological site defined by concentric terraces. Hang-gliding, paragliding and rafting are popular area activities. The terraces are incredibly beautiful and make for a very fun and unique hike!
A busy transportation hub, Urubamba sits on the Urubamba River, surrounded by rugged mountains. My personal favorite place in Sacred Valley. Inkaterra Urubamba is truly one of the most beautiful hotels we’ve seen throughout the world. Eat at the hotel restaurant - they grow much of their food on site. Enjoy the starry nights.
Pisac is a village in southern Peru’s Sacred Valley region. It's known for its lively handicrafts market in the main square. A path winds from the square past agricultural terraces up to Pisac Archaeological Park, a hilltop Incan citadel with ancient temples, plazas and the Intihuatana, a stone structure thought to have been a sundial. Views from the top stretch across the Quitamayo gorge and surrounding valley.
Maras Salt Mines
Maras is a town near the city of Cusco in the Sacred Valley. It's known for the Maras Salt Mines, thousands of individual salt pools on a hillside, dating back to Incan times. West of the town is Moray, an Inca archaeological site on a high plateau featuring a series of concentric terraces. Surrounding trails offer views of the snow-capped Urubamba mountain range. Highly recommended for a great photo op!
It's known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain. The village's old town is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings.
Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes
The Macchu Picchu base camp where everyone stays. Inkaterra El Mapi is the cheaper of the Inkaterra’s, but no less cool. Right in the thick of it as far as Aguas Calientes touristing goes, and dinner and breakfast are included in the price.
It’s everything you think it will be and more. Beforehand, choose which type of hike you’re interested in - leisurely, or more difficult. Huayna Picchu requires reservations beforehand, but is the best view of Macchu Picchu. Spots fill up quickly, though, so make sure to book in advance. There’s nothing more we could say that hasn’t already been said about Macchu Picchu. Go and explore it for yourself!
After you’re done marveling at one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, train back to Cusco on the PeruRail and head home!
To help you prepare for your trip, here's our essential list of what to pack for your Sacred Valley adventure (if you’re not trekking the Inca Trail):
- Comfortable, broken in hiking boots - we like these
- Comfortable, thick socks
- Layers - it went from cold to very hot in a short amount of time while we were there.
- Sunblock - even if it’s cloudy, Macchu Picchu will probably burn you.
- Hat - see above...the weather is deceiving!
- High quality camera - Peru is truly one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been and you’ll want to constantly snap photos. Not to mention the national food is guinea pig, and you’re going to want some photos of you eating that!
- Mini Bluetooth Travel Speaker - For the hotel rooms and picnics along the way!
- Cash for the local markets
- Water bottle - stay hydrated!
- Rucksack to fit everything in when you’re hiking