Lesson One: 7 days in Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu

Cusco Night
Cusco’s Plaza de Armas at night

After facing our first and only delay of the trip, we finally arrive in Cusco. The delayed Air Canada flight led to us missing our LAN Airlines connection to Cusco, but upon arrival we were greeted by an Air Canada representative who organized to get us onto the next LAN flight. Luckily for us, LAN flies out by the hour in the morning!

Seven Day Plan

We scheduled to stay in the Cusco and Sacred Valley region (including Machu Picchu) for a total of seven days. The city of Cusco itself can be covered in two or three days, but there is so much to see around the Sacred Valley region. It’s definitely worth allocating more time there. I loved wandering around aimlessly in the side streets (and there was definitely time for that), but here’s a rough schedule of what we did:

Date City Morning Afternoon Evening Accommodation
Sept 13 Cusco Arrive to Cusco Recover from 24hr transfer Marriott
Sept 14 Cusco Free Walking Tour Yawarmaki Hostel
Sept 15 Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Tour (includes Pisac, Urumbamba, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero) Sumac Chaska Hostal
Sept 16 Aguas Calientes Train to Aguas Calientes Joe’s Inn
Sept 17 Aguas Calientes 5:30am bus to Machu Picchu 5pm bus to Aguas Calientes Inka’s Wonder
Sept 18 Cusco Train to Ollantaytambo Take collectivo back to Cusco Yawarmaki Hostel
Sept 19 Cusco Moray & Maras Salineras Tour Yawarmaki Hostel

Cusco Free Walking Tour: I highly recommend catching this. It’s a great way for you to get accustomed to the city, and also figure out which places you want to spend more time in. Well paced tour, and great English speaking guide. We tipped 20 Soles, but we definitely overpaid (maybe we were still a bit delirious from the altitude).

Cusco City Tour: We found a tour agency on our first day in Cusco, and booked our first two day trips with them. The Cusco City Tour consisted of Sacsaywaman, Qorikancha, Q’enqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay. Sacsaywaman & Qorikancha can easily be visited by yourself. Both are walking distance from the city center (however, uphill for Sacsaywaman). I would suggest this option if you’re acclimatized and not a fan of being rushed. The latter three sites can be visited with a combination of walking and taking a taxi. They are smaller ruins, but they do offer a nice scene of the surrounding landscape.

This tour usually starts at 1:30pm, and you’ll be back in Cusco around 7pm. Frank (our tour agent), was not being frank. We paid CA$9/person after a few rounds of bargaining, but turns out we still overpaid! If you’re a savvy bargainer, you could probably get the tour for CA$5/person. It was a learning process for me, and I’ll leave my 2 cents on tour agencies down below.

Sacred Valley Tour: Booked through the previous tour agency, we ended up paying CA$26/person. Speaking with some of the people we met on the tour bus, there was a wide range of prices. But if you are a savvy bargainer, you can find yourself paying CA$10/person for this tour.

This tour starts at around 8am, and you’ll be back in Cusco around 7pm. Unfortunately, every other tour follow the same route of: Pisac Ruins, Urumbamba for lunch, Ollantaytambo Ruins, then to Chinchero for a (touristy) family weaving market. This is the reason why the sites will appear full when you arrive by tour bus. It will probably be less busy if you go about these sites by yourself at off times. This can be done through hiring taxis or catching collectivos (shared minivans), but it’s definitely cheaper and easier to travel around with a guided tour.

Pinkuylluna (Ollantaytambo): Before catching the train to Aguas Calientes, we did a mini hike up Pinkuylluna. Venture along the left trail for a steep 1 hour hike, but venture right for a quick 20 minute hike (we opted for the latter). Fantastic view of the town, and it’s for free! There were very little tourists here, so definitely worth checking out if you have acclimatized.

Machu Picchu & Aguas Calientes: Machu Picchu is the highlight of my trip, but unfortunately I had to go through Aguas Calientes, my least favourite town out of the whole trip. This section will require a separate blog… so come back to check it out!

Moray & Maras Salineras Tour: This is the final day tour of this leg of our trip. This time, we shopped around for the best price, and ended up paying around CA$11 (cheaper than a friend we met who was from Lima… yuppie!). This tour consisted of a lot of driving, for just two fairish sites. You start at around 8am, and you’ll arrive back to Cusco around 3pm.

Cusco Streets
Inner streets of Cusco

Money Matters (CA$)

Intercity Travel: $159

In-town Travel: $42

Tours & Entrance Fees: $155

Accommodations: $185

Food: $92

Miscellaneous: $13

TOTAL: $646 (including Machu Picchu)

View from Ollantaytambo ruins

Transportation: Around & About the Sacred Valley

Chinchero > Ollantaytambo: after our Sacred Valley tour, we left our guided tour to head back to Ollantaytambo for the night. Our tour guide found a taxi for us, which usually costs around 60 to 100 Soles total (depending on time of day). We paid 60 Soles split amongst 3 people.

Ollantaytambo > Aguas Calientes: We took our round trip with Inca Rail. More information to come on this leg of our trip!

Ollantaytambo > Cusco: Since we arrived in Ollantaytambo in the afternoon, we were comfortable with taking a shared vehicle back to Cusco. Right outside of the Ollantaytambo train station, you’ll find a bunch of 15 seater minivans which you can hire for private (around 100 Soles for the whole minivan), or shared collectivos for 10 Soles per person. We opted for the cheaper alternative, and it was by far my favourite car ride out of the whole trip. The collectivo was shared with locals (people going to work, and students getting off school), mixed in with beautiful landscape during the whole time.

My 2 Cents on Tour Agencies

You love ’em, and you hate ’em. Love ’em because if you’re savvy and willing to put in some time to shop around, you’ll get the best deal doing day trips with organized tours. Hate ’em because we never received what we were “really” promised, and you get rushed through most of the sites.

Mid-ranged & cheap organized tours work like this: You find an agency to book through. When you arrive in the morning, you will be compiled once or twice with other agencies onto one big tour bus. You will be mixed into a tour with both Spanish & English speakers. And if you’re lucky, your tour guide will have decent English. Majority of tours follow the same route & timeline, so sometimes it does come down to the luck of the draw.

It’s a good “been there, done that” option, and sometimes, that’s all you need!

PeruBolivia 244
Visiting the weaving markets in Chinchero

That wraps up my time in Cusco and the Sacred Valley! Up next, Machu Picchu & Aguas Calientes!

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