The Sacred Valley, Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, Oh My!

Two days after our travel companions Dan and Nichole arrived last weekend, we embarked on an epic four-day adventure culminating with Machu Picchu.  Now, it’s important to know that there are a variety of options for visiting the sacred Inca site.  You can do it simple and cheap via a one (albeit long) day trip on the train. You can schedule a much longer trip, oftentimes seven or eight days, in which you visit all of the Inca ruin sites from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes, the city nearest Machu Picchu.  Or, you can do a private tour in which you determine the length of your journey, as well as the stops along the way.  The best choice for you will depend on your agenda, the time you have available, and your preference for a more or less rigid schedule.

For us, we determined that a four day trip made the most sense and we knew we wanted to visit Machu Picchu in a less conventional way.  This meant that we were going to take the private car tour.  Our host’s father, Daniel, has long been a tour guide in Cusco and he has a wealth of knowledge regarding the Inca (or more accurately, Quechua) people.  So, the five of us (and our driver, Carlos) left early on Monday morning to head to a few sites in the Sacred Valley. We visited Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo during the day before heading to the jungle of Quillabamba on Monday night.  We spent all of Tuesday in Quillabamba and stayed for one more night before heading to our next stop in Cocalmayo/Santa Teresa on Wednesday afternoon.  At this point in the journey, we left our vehicle and hiked from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes on Wednesday evening.  This set us up for a beautiful Thursday morning at Machu Picchu, followed by a long trek home that night.

The four days we spent on the road seemed like a month because of the immense activities we experienced.  Since we don’t have a month to read about it, let me sum up why the Kimble-Rudenga itinerary was perfect for us (and may be perfect for you, too!):

1. Flexibility.   You aren’t tied to a specific timeline through private car transport.  There are options to stop off somewhere for lunch, spend extra time at certain sites and even pull off of the road if someone is getting carsick.  A private tour puts you in control of your schedule.

2. The ability to travel off the beaten path.  More than half of our four days was spent at sites that the train surpasses on the way to Machu Picchu.  The jungle in Quillabamba and the natural hot springs at Cocalmayo are “must-sees,” and you wouldn’t get to see them taking a direct route!

3. Enhanced knowledge of the Inca sites.  Daniel was constantly dropping knowledge during the car ride and at all of the archaeological sites.

4.  A more personal experience.  There’s definitely a different feeling when you have one tour guide for four people versus a large group.  Everything was so interactive (like climbing trees to pick your own avocado!) and being in a smaller group allowed for us to ask questions and really understand the culture and history.

5.  Better bang for your buck.  The price of the train ticket alone (not including entrance to the sites) is about a third of the cost of what we paid for our four-day excursion.

6.  Cultural experiences.  We made various stops at fruit stands and markets along our route, giving us an opportunity to try so many new things (ever tasted a pacay?).  Not to mention we were able to visit local farmers in Quillabamba and enjoy organic coffee, fruits, meats and vegetables!

7.  You can bring your dog!  Sofi experienced every bit of our four-day trip with the exception of Machu Picchu, so she definitely recommends a private car.

8.  Insane scenery.  Our route to Quillabamba allowed for a pass through the snow-capped mountains at over 14,000 feet!

9.  Working off the “car” legs.  The mountains don’t allow for cars to make it past Santa Teresa, so we enjoyed a 10-kilometer hike to Aguas Calientes.  The path follows the train tracks and gives a little sneak peak of Machu Picchu near the end of the trail.

10.  Memorable videos.  Daniel encouraged us to take time for pictures and videos, so we never felt rushed.  See below for a video of our journey from start to finish!

Advertisements

So Many Smells (A Look at Cusco from Sofi’s Perspective)!

What is that smell?  Who is this stranger carrying my crate?  Where are Mom and Dad?    These were some of the many thoughts that bounced between my floppy ears last week.  After I was carried out of the long pointy car that flies in the sky, the strangers brought me to an open area to wait.  I sat there until they moved my crate towards a big door and…I SAW MOM AND DAD!  I was beginning to think that the long pointy car was my new home, so I was wagging my tail like a propeller when I saw them.

After we were reunited, we jumped into a car and drove away.  “Oh no,” I worried.  “The last time I got into a car I ended up in the sky!”  Fortunately, we just drove to my new home where I share a room with my parents (which is way cooler than it sounds).  I was super tired from all of the unexpected events that took place, so I went to bed and dreamed about running down the streets of my new home.

I awoke the next morning refreshed and with heightened senses.  Holy smells!  My family had moved before, but this was unlike anything else.  Let me tell you a few tails (pun intended) about my experiences.

The first thing I noticed is that the other dogs don’t wrestle with me.  I used to wrestle all day long with my golden retriever friend, Buster.  But now, every time I try to wrestle with new friends they either growl at me or run away. Plus, they eat garbage all the time!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like garbage too.  But I mostly eat it because I’m bored.  I should really share some of my Pro Plan with them.  They don’t know what they’re missing!

Did I mention that there are some creatures here that I’ve never seen before?  On one of our first days here, I walked around town and saw a big pink dog who snorted a lot.  Mom told me that this dog’s name was Pig. When I went up to greet her she squealed and ran away.  I guess she was in a hurry to get somewhere!  I also met a big black and white creature with horns.  I was walking down a dirt road when we first saw him.  He didn’t speak canine and I’ve never seen anything like him before, so I tentatively approached.  We sniffed each other and I thought things were going well until he decided to lower his head and point his horns at me!  Just like me in my crate every morning after Mom and Dad get up, I shot outta there.  My last crazy encounter was with a little human.  Sometimes I’m unsure of how to interact with them because they don’t pet me, so we typically stare at each other until I bark out of confusion. So, when I met one on a walk in the town, I didn’t want to give a bad impression and start things off on the wrong paw.  This tiny human was sitting on a small plastic car with wheels. He saw me and stopped in his tracks. The stare down began. Instead of barking at him, I decided to mix things up and give him a friendly lick on the face (our version of a handshake), and do you know what he did? He scrunched up his face and water droplets starting coming out of his eyes! Why are the little humans so hard to understand?

Lastly, I am getting to go on some really fun rides.  I recently rode in a bike car with no windows.  Mom and Dad kept calling it a “tuk tuk.”  For my doggie friends reading this post, believe me when I say that my jowls were flapping in the wind without putting my face out the window!  Jackpot.

And that’s just the beginning.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring!  Every time I set my paws on the ground outside, a new adventure begins.  Whether I’m stepping in a bucket of peppers at the market or running up the mountains behind our house, I’m always having fun.  I hope you are, too!