Cusco, my very special town! Capital of the Incas and even prettier than I could have ever imagined, even in my most colourful dreams! So authentic, so vivid, and so rich in culture, it was a city that took me back in time. Men and women dressed in traditional attire were selling colourful Peruvian souvenirs, as well as fruits and vegetables that looked fairytale-like… they sold gigantic avocados that would have made the dreamiest avo-toasts…
While climbing the steep steps of the city, I was quickly out of breath and wondered if I suddenly became unfit overnight – it felt as if I was on a treadmill at 10% incline for hours! Altitude sickness was the culprit, so I was told that an ancient tradition to alleviate the feeling was to chew on coca leaves, called “acullico.” The magical leaves saved my life. Not only did they help me with altitude sickness but also suppressed my hunger, eased my jet lag fatigue, and digested all the Peruvian chocolate I was having!
Beauty Sleep: Inakterra Casona, a charming boutique hotel surrounded by cobblestoned streets and located right in the Plaza de Las Nazarenas. It has 11 suites oozing with charm, culture, and tradition. It serves delicious food, especially their gourmet breakfast! All of the rooms have fireplaces to keep you warm during the cold Andean nights. Tip: If you’re a last minute traveller and can’t find a room there, try the Palazio Nazarena or the Monasterio.
After a yummy breakfast filled with Andean superfoods, I stopped by the healing house for Sunrise Vinyasa Yoga – the perfect start to my day in the spiritual and holy city of the Incas.
We visited the local cathedral located in the Plaza de Armas, the main square. Absolutely breathtaking!
We strolled over to the bohemian neighbourhood of San Blas, famous for its church and cool handicrafts. The little stores are perfect for retail therapy if you’re in need of a brightly woven Peruvian poncho, or locally crafted jewellery and bags. We had a delicious lunch at Organika, a farm-to-table restaurant, where the dishes were not only tasty but also gorgeously decorated with bright flowers.
We stopped by Coricancha, the Inca temple of the Sun. It’s incredibly impressive especially if you’re a sun lover like myself.
You can’t come to Cusco and not visit the bustling San Pedro Market, known for its Andean tropical fruits and vegetables, potatoes in all colours, shapes, and sizes, as well as its flower stalls and textiles…
We ended our day with dinner at Cicciolina, located on the second level of a colonial home. It serves a mix of Spanish tapas and Peruvian cuisine. The highlight was their magical pisco sour. Tip: It’s one of the most popular spots in town and is quite small, so definitely book in advance!
Even though the hotel’s breakfast is dreamy, we grabbed a bite at Jack’s Coffee for a change, and had their avocado on toast with crushed mint and lemon. If you’re in the mood for something a little naughtier, don’t miss out on their homemade cakes!
Next, we made our way to Sacsayhuaman, the stunning ancient fortress and a masterpiece of Inca architecture. Staring in awe at the massive Inca walls built with gigantic stones, one could only wonder how the Inca had carried the stones weighing over 100 tons up that hill? The view is impressive as you get to see the entire magical city of Cusco.
We stopped by Limo for a quick lunch, a Peruvian-Asian fusion joint with an outstanding view on the Plaza de Armas. Tip: Make sure to book a table by the window.
Then, we headed to Pisac, one of the sacred Valley’s best archaeological gems, and hiked up the agricultural terraces all the way to the top of the Incan ruins for a breathtaking panoramic view. Pisac also became the place for many spiritual seekers, where you can find many yoga and meditation retreats that are definitely worth trying if you’re interested.
We drove back down to the Pisac village to visit its fabulous market and weaving communities. It’s ideal on a Sunday because it’s the day the indigenous Quechua communities of the surrounding highlands come to sell their product.
The market is filled with hand-weaved rainbow throws … there is a so much to see and absorb, and to bargain for (an essential part of the experience). The people are incredibly delightful!
On our way back to Cusco, we had dinner at MAP Café, located in the courtyard of the Museo de Arte Pre-Columbino. It’s a very special dining experience with beautifully prepared and delectable food, combining local and European flavors.
Before we even reached Misminay, we knew we were entering an incredibly special place. As we approached the village, we could hear the beat of the drums, and the singing and clapping drawing us into it. A group of men and women from the community enrobed in bright and colourful Peruvian clothes greeted us with warmth and excitement.
Discovering Misminay was my favourite day of the trip. I learnt about the laborious process of weaving textiles and about the community’s agriculture practices, local dance, and mystic ritual offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth). It was eye opening and mesmerising to spend time with such incredible people and partake in their most sacred and age-old traditions.
I also organised a “Servinacuy”, an Andean wedding to renew my vows with my husband in the presence of a shaman. During the ceremony, offerings are made to the apus, the Andean Gods and to Pachamama. My husband and I were welcomed to become a family in the Andes and inhabitants of Cusco, making us Cusqueños.
Beauty sleep: Sol Y Luna hotel. The small, bright hotel is charming and happy with 24 casitas surrounded by outsized cactuses and rainbow flowers. It’s definitely built for lovers of colour! What’s even more moving is that all the proceeds from the hotel go to the Sol Y Luna foundation providing free education for kids of the Sacred Valley. There are loads of fun activities ranging from kayak and cycling adventures, to horseback riding and quad biking tours to discover remote villages and heritage sites in the Sacred Valley.
And that’s exactly what we did. The hotel has their own stables, so we went horseback riding in the Sacred Valley at sunrise!
We then had lunch at Iskay Maras’s private restaurant. Tatiana, his wife cooks the most amazing Peruvian food made from ingredients that are handpicked from their organic bio-garden. The end result is the ultimate authentic culinary experience offering home-cooked cuisine with a warm personal touch.
We continued our day with a visit to two hidden gems in the Sacred Valley: Maras and Moray. We started our walk at the Urubamba River following the old Maras trail all the way to the top, and making our way slowly through the centuries-old salt flats. A car met us at the top to take us to Moray, which is a ten-minute drive away. There, we saw the most mysterious looking agricultural circular terraces – it was simply stunning!
We finished our day by driving to the town of Chinchero, a remarkable untouched Incan village, known to be the birthplace of the rainbow! The beautiful church built with adobe bricks is a must-see as is the square, where you’ll find a small market of local souvenirs and handicrafts. Tip: Go around sunset, the perfect time to avoid the tourist rush!
Tip: To get the most out of your days in Peru, book a day trip to Machu Picchu unless you also plan on hiking the opposite mountain the following day (book in advance!).
That morning, we began our scenic journey to Machu Picchu on the Hiram Bingham train, which felt like Agatha Christie’ Orient Express. Not only was the experience unforgettable but also very convenient because our tickets to MP were organised for us.
Exceeding my every expectation, Machu Picchu was an enchanted place, with an amazing aura, rich in history, and simply breathtaking! Tip: Try to organise a private guided tour – it can make all the difference.
As we made our way back to Sol y Luna, travelling through the Andes, we marvelled at this ancient Wonder of the World.
We planned to visit the Vinicunca, the rainbow mountain, but it was covered in snow and we didn’t have the right equipment. If you’re lucky with the weather, you absolutely cannot miss it! Plan to leave the hotel at 2:00am for a three-hour drive. Once there, you will hike up to 4500 meters, so definitely pack a bunch of coca leaves and an oxygen bottle to be on the safe side. The hike lasts about an hour and a half, but there is also the option to ride on mules for most of the climb. I’m definitely coming back to Peru for that!
Instead we flew to Puno to visit Lake Titicaca.
Located on the border of Bolivia and Peru, it’s one of the most fascinating lakes in the world. According to Incan mythology, it was from this lake that the creator god, Viracocha, emerged and created the sun, moon, heaven and stars, and the first living beings.
In the morning, we went to the floating manmade island of Uros. We met a local named Orlando, who welcomed us into his home and described his way of living and working. Simple things like showering are rare for Orlando … it was a very intimate and humbling moment, reminding us never to overlook or take anything for granted.
We then visited a tiny floating island where the Uru people, clad in the most colourful attire, were selling so many bright bracelets I couldn’t believe my eyes! My Peruvian treasures are still radiating on my wrists.
Finally, we discovered Taquile, a tiny island on Lake Titicaca and home to roughly 1500 Quecha-speaking Indians, who live a communal life and share everything, a tradition dating back centuries. Taquile, also known for its textile art, is an ancient weaving community where the locals’ daily routine consists of spinning yarn and weaving fabrics.
The traditions of this community are so poetic and charming, but the ritual in which a husband commits to his wife is definitely the most touching! The husband weaves a belt with all the promises that he makes to his wife and wears it every single day as a reminder to honor those promises.
You also never have to ask the men about their mood because they show it with their hats. They are having a good day if the pom-pom on their hat is to the right, a bad day if it’s to the left, and a neutral one if it’s to the back.
I simply can’t wait to come back to this bright, vivid, enchanting and gorgeous country, with the most amazing people. I also wish I could have taken an alpaca back with me but sadly, it needs the high altitudes of Peru! On my next trip, I will definitely explore the surf culture of Peru, the culinary scene of Lima, the magical rainbow mountains, and learn more about the different Inca communities – there are so many that I will need a few trips to cover them all – and who knows, maybe trek the Inca trail and spend the night among the clouds in Machu Picchu!