Time permitting, make sure to visit the Urubamba Valley outside of Cusco. I recommend:
Pisac is a small village in the Urubamba Valley that is known for its Sunday market and the ruins above town. We walked from above, among the ruins and the terraced hillsides used for farming, into the market below. The market is so colorful, with the locals in their native dress selling wonderful handicrafts, rugs and pottery in addition to fruits and vegetables. This was one of my favorite spots of my first trip! Friends were just there and loved the restaurant Doña Clorinda in Pisac for lunch.
Moray is also interesting as it was the experimental agricultural terraces built by the Incas. You can also visit the small village of Maras and the interesting Salt Mines nearby. Walking along ancient farming paths looking at the Andes was amazing.
I just read about MIL Centro restaurant in Maras. Famed chef Virgilio Martínez has opened a restaurant above the terraces of Moray. It is supposed to be an amazing experience and was name one of Food & Wines World’s Best Restaurants in 2019.
Ollantaytambo is a major Inca site. The site is a massive fortress which has huge steep terraces. The fortress is one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the Conquest.
On my first trip, I had the rare opportunity to hike to the small village of Cancha Cancha located four miles up from Yucay near a glacier. The people were living like the Incas in stone houses with no electricity or running water. There were guinea pigs running around the house which is a large part of their diet. We took school supplies to the children who greeted us with songs. It was an amazing opportunity. If you have a chance to visit a small village with people in their native dress, don’t pass it up! Life has not changed here for hundreds of years.
If you have time, visit Ceramicas Seminario in Urubamba. They are dedicated to the discovery of techniques and designs from ancient Peruvian cultures and the pieces are really outstanding. I bought a number of decorative pieces including windchimes, wall plaques and pitchers.
I recommend leaving Cuzco to explore the Urubamba Valley rather than doing daily side trips. We stayed in Yucay at the Sonesta Posadas Del Inca which was a former 18th century colonial Monastery. It was really charming.
Another great hotel option is Belmond’s Rio Sagrado hotel in the Urubamba Valley. Recently opened is the new property by the award winning Explora. This 50 room resort, featuring suites and standard rooms, is their first property out of Chile. I read that they have an emphasis on food and local ingredients along with excursions and Inca cooking classes. This experience was developed exclusively by the renowned Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez, owner of the sixth best restaurant in the world, Central Restaurante in Lima, according to The World’s Best Restaurants 2019 ranking. He also opened MIL Centro mentioned above in Maras.
I just was rereading my travel journal from my first trip to Peru in 1998. Here are my remembrances that I listed!!
- The Andes are beautiful -some snowcapped but brown and gentle.
- Small farms – bricks out of red clay
- Indian or native women – in hats- carrying colorful packs on back – often barefoot.
- Beautiful vistas of the mountains.
- Seeing Machu Picchu at the Sun Gate
- Seeing the Inca architecture – the stone work is amazing.
- Cancha Cancha – seeing the village after a touch hike- seeing the school children and seeing an acutal home
- Walking in Machu PIcchu alone
- Eating the local trout – red in color
- Seeing the Inca sacred sites