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Hey there, fellow travellers! If you’re looking for an amazing adventure in 2024, look no further than Cusco and Machu Picchu, two of the most stunning destinations in Peru. I just came back from a two-week trip there, and I can’t wait to share with you some of the hidden gems I discovered along the way. Trust me, you don’t want to miss these!
First of all, let me tell you how I got there. I flew from London to Lima with a direct flight, which was super convenient and saved me a lot of time. Then I took another flight to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire and the gateway to Machu Picchu. Cusco is a beautiful city full of history, culture and charm. I stayed at a cosy hostel in the historic centre, where I met some awesome fellow travellers from all over the world.
One of the best things about Cusco is that it offers a variety of options to explore its surroundings. You can either book a tour with a local guide or buy a tourist ticket that gives you access to several archaeological sites. I opted for the former since I like to travel organized. There are three types of tourist tickets in Cusco: Circuit I, Circuit II and Circuit III. Each one covers different attractions and has a different price and validity.
I decided to go for Circuit III, which cost me 70 Peruvian soles (about 15 pounds) and was valid for one day. This ticket allowed me to enter four amazing sites located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a lush and scenic region that was once the heartland of the Inca civilization. Here are the sites I visited and why you should too:
This is a complex of terraces, temples and fortresses built on a mountain overlooking the valley, the town of Pisac and the Urubamba River. It was one of the most important agricultural centres of the Incas and also served as a religious and military outpost. The views from here are breathtaking, and you can also visit the colourful market in the town below, where you can buy handicrafts, textiles and souvenirs.
The Inca Trail passes right behind the Ollantaytambo Sanctuary in Sacred Valley.
This is another impressive fortress that was built on a hillside to defend the valley from invaders. This is one of the best-preserved Inca towns, with narrow cobblestone streets and stone buildings that date back to the 15th century. It was also a strategic military site where the Incas resisted the Spanish invasion. You can climb up to the fortress on the hillside, where you’ll find impressive terraces, temples and storehouses.
It has some of the finest examples of Inca architecture and engineering, such as huge stone blocks that fit together perfectly without mortar. You can also see the remains of an elaborate water system that irrigated the terraces and supplied the town. Ollantaytambo is also the starting point of the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which I’ll tell you more about later.
Our first stop on our day tour around Sacred Valley in Cusco, Peru was to Chincero.
This is a quaint village that preserves its traditional Andean culture and lifestyle. It has a beautiful colonial church that was built on top of an Inca palace and decorated with colourful murals. It also has a lively market where you can see local women weaving and dyeing wool using natural ingredients. Chinchero is also known for its spectacular sunsets that light up the snow-capped mountains in the background.
Day trip to the archaeological site of Moray from Cusco, Peru.
This is one of the most unique and fascinating sites in the Sacred Valley. It consists of circular terraces that form concentric rings descending into the ground. It looks like a giant amphitheatre or a UFO landing site, but it was actually an agricultural laboratory where the Incas experimented with different crops and climates. The temperature difference between the top and bottom terraces can reach up to 15 degrees Celsius, creating microclimates that mimic different regions of the empire.
5. Salineras de Maras (Salt Mines)
This is a stunning sight that you don’t want to miss. It’s a huge complex of salt ponds that have been used since pre-Inca times to extract salt from a natural spring. The ponds are arranged on the side of a mountain and create a contrast of white, pink and brown colours against the green valley. You can walk among the ponds and see how the salt is harvested by hand. You can also buy some salt products from the local vendors, such as salted chocolate, salted caramel and salted soap. Salineras de Maras is not only a beautiful place to visit but also a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who live here.
As you can see, Circuit III is well worth it if you want to see some of the lesser-known but equally amazing attractions in Cusco and Peru. I had a blast exploring these sites and learning more about the Inca culture and history. If you’re planning to visit Peru in 2024, make sure to include them in your itinerary. You won’t regret it!