Things to Do in Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Grandmother and granddaughter at Tambomachay near Cusco

Many tourists whoosh through Cusco and the Sacred Valley on a whirlwind itinerary which leaves their heads spinning. While some might be content to shoot through as they tick off items on their bucket list, Peru’s most famous city and its surrounding valleys offer up a virtual smorgasbord of activities for those with longer attention spans.

During our more than two months in the area, we’ve had some time to get acquainted with not-so-little Qosq’o (Quechua name). What we’ve discovered is one of South America’s most unique and appealing towns in one of the continent’s most unique and appealing regions. No wonder UNESCO declared Cusco a World Heritage Site. Here’s just a tiny sample of all the great things to do in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Continue…

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Many tourist brochures would have you believe that trekking options in the Cusco region begin and end with the famous (perhaps overly famous) Inca Trail. Nothing could be further from the truth. Four-month waiting lists and packed campgrounds have left more spontaneous visitors to the Cusco region searching for trekking alternatives which they can easily combine with a visit to Machu Picchu.

The rising star among these alternatives is the beautiful Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, a unique option which takes trekkers on a world-class journey across Mt. Salkantay and the high-altitude Salkantay Pass and descends into the cloud forests surrounding Machu Picchu. Along the Salkantay trail, trekkers experience an extraordinary range of Andean mountain environments as well as remote Incan trade trails and rare views of the western side of Machu Picchu from the Llactapata Continue…

Extraordinary Nazca – Much More Than Lines

Extraordinary Nazca Lines: Nazca Hummingbird

The Nazca Lines have been associated with everything from aliens to Atlantis; they are certainly one of the world’s most mysterious creations. All that fame, intrigue and media attention means that the name Nazca has now become synonymous with the lines. But many people don’t realize that Nazca refers to a town, a region, and even an ancient culture. That culture left behind much more than lines.

Bucketlisters and speedy travelers shooting through Peru often spend half a day in Nazca, do a quick flight over the Nazca Lines, and hightail it on to Arequipa, Cusco or Lima. GIGANTIC MISTAKE. Nazca is a fascinating region which deserves far more attention. Thomas and I spent six days here, and this is just a bit of what we discovered Continue…

Ausangate Trek – Lodge to Lodge along the Camino del Apu Ausangate

Our Ausangate trek started with a picture, a mind-blowing image circulated on Facebook of a surreal rainbow mountain, which I assumed had been photoshopped beyond belief. (Could something really be that beautiful?) When I saw the image, I initially thought it was the Zhangye Danxia mountains in China, but something about the shape of the hill looked slightly different. Dragging the picture into Google image search revealed that I was looking at formations near Ausangate mountain just a few hours from Cusco, Peru. Yay! Continue…

The Faces of Ausangate

Andean Lodges: Roberto, our horseman, shows off one of his many trekking hats

As you can see from the Ausangate lodge trek post and video, our trek along the Camino del Apu Ausangate was full of natural and cultural highs. For many people, the spectacular landscapes and isolated Andean villages are reason enough to do the trek. But we also wanted to stop and reflect a bit on the unique relationship between Andean Lodges and the communities of Chillca and Osefina which greatly benefit from these treks. Continue…

Day-Tripping in Huaraz

TnT at Lake 69

Huaraz is the trekking capital of the central Peruvian Andes; it’s the perfect base for day trips and multi-day treks into the surrounding Cordillera Blanca, including Peru’s highest mountain, Huascarán (6,768 m / 22,205 ft). Best time to hike is May to September when skies are crystal-blue and days are dry and warm. However, hiking can still be good during the fringe-season, just before May and into November.

We came to Huaraz in November to independently hike the world-famous Santa Cruz trek. Yes, we knew we were pushing our luck with the weather this late in the season, but we were already in Peru, so we thought we would give it a try. To make this story a little shorter, we failed… or rather, high-altitude drizzle with zero visibility made us return to Huaraz on day one of our trek.

Yes, travel does not always go as planned. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. So was Huaraz a total bust? Not at all. We turned that failure into a major victory by Continue…

Skylodge Peru – The Edgiest Hotel in the World

We had some pretty incredible experiences during our six months in Peru; it felt like we were bouncing from one awesome adventure to another. But our outing to the Skylodge Adventure Suites with was taking those adventures to new heights… literally.

The Skylodge Adventure Suites just might be the world’s “edgiest” hotel as you literally sleep hanging off a twelve-hundred-foot cliff overlooking Peru’s famous Sacred Valley. It’s seriously cool, but sorry jet-set crowd, there’s no pulling up to this hotel in a taxi. The Skylodge Adventure Suites was built by adventurers for adventurers. If you want to sleep suspended on a sheer Andean wall, you have to earn it. Continue…

The Titilaka Experience

We’re soaring along ten feet above the surface of Lake Titicaca basking in the high-altitude sun. The Titilaka hotel boat feels like our own private yacht; there are no other passengers onboard. Our guide Armando is below preparing some snacks, so Thomas and I have the roof deck all to ourselves.

The views are out of this world. The waters glisten with a muted palette of blues; the islands dazzle with a patchwork of rusts and greens. Surreal stone ridges and huge vertical upthrusts of solid rock run along the southern shore. To the north, a wall of clouds breaks to reveal the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Real. It feels like the setting in a National Geographic dream. Ahead of us, our destination floats on the surface of Titicaca. It’s the man-made reed islands of Uros, one of the strangest UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the planet Continue…

Colca Zip-Lining: Meet the Monster

Thrill-seekers and adventure junkies, drop what you’re doing, it’s time to meet the Monster. Think you’ve been on a zip line before? Yeah, unless you’ve been to Colca Canyon recently, I don’t think so.

The brainchild of the completely insane and totally cool Peruvian American Natan, Colca Zip-Lining takes the art of cabled flight to awesome extremes. Natan is kind of like the Picasso of zip lines: he stands back, stares at the cliffs and then lays a stretch of line that makes people go, “Whaaat?!” Continue…

Canyon Adventures at Colca Lodge

The landscapes around Colca Canyon are savage and raw. Here, the Peruvian Altiplano plummets thousands of feet into the meandering Colca River. It’s a stunningly harsh region where villagers cling to the slopes in a cultivated tapestry of  geniusly terraced farms. In the distance, Mt. Sabancaya erupts sending a column of smoke high into the air. Just next to it looms Nevado Ampato, the volcano where the famous Ice Maiden was found.

The scenery is wild and striking. Huge, spectacular cracks along the road prove that those old B-grade movie earthquakes do exist. Volcanic waters burst from the earth and stream down the cliffs forcing your bus to slam on the brakes. The shifting earth is alive here. It’s beautiful, but not the kind of place that you expect to find luxury. Then again, Colca Lodge is not your typical hotel Continue…