More Than Machu Picchu: The Most Incredible Experiences You Can Have In Peru
Peru deserves to be done properly.
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Travel to Peru and you’ll inevitably hear the Quechua and Aymaran word ‘Pachamama’ from the locals. It literally translates to ‘Mother Earth’, the Incan goddess of fertility, celebrated by the indigenous people of the Andes. More than a deity, Pachamama is the personification of the Earth and responsible for the sustenance of all things living on it.
This palpable, omnipresent energy is said to underscore the ethos of Andean living and being. It’s in the dramatic landscapes: so vast, varied and incredibly stunning. It’s within the vibrant people: everyone is so warm and hospitable, which is most apparent in and around the city of Cusco – the former capital of the Incan Empire.
Here are some activities and sights where you can discover the magic of Pachamama for yourself.
Indulge Your Tastebuds In Cusco
Cusco often serves as an acclimatisation base for those visiting Machu Picchu and the nearby Sacred Valley, but this beautiful city is more than just a layover. One of the best ways to explore it is through the food. In rituals and ceremonies dedicated to Pachamama, food is often used as an offering; once you’ve tried Peruvian fare, it’s not difficult to see why gifts of food keep this goddess appeased.
Sizzling lomo saltado, grilled beef heart skewers (anticuchos) and deep-fried guinea pig (cuy) are typical delicious dishes, but make sure you also try ‘Pachamanca’ — a traditional Peruvian culinary dish made by baking meat and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves in an earthen oven with hot stones.
For an authentic market experience, head over to Mercado Central de San Pedro, a bustling local market overflowing with aisles of exotic foods, and colourful textiles and handicrafts. Seat yourself at one of the food stalls for a lunchtime feed or walk down the juice aisle and ask one of the many juice vendors to whip together a fruity concoction for you. If you have a sweet-tooth, drop by the Choco Museo (actually a museum of chocolate) afterwards for a sugary pick-me-up.
Marvel At The Magnificence Of The Sacred Valley
While Machu Picchu often takes centre stage, the Sacred Valley is also filled with an abundance of impressive archaeological sites that demonstrate the advanced design and sophisticated masonry work of the Incan Empire.
Pisac, a town an hour away from Cusco, is well known for its sprawling artisan market that takes up the whole main plaza. Here you can roam around and haggle for beanies before catching a taxi to the Pisac Incan ruins — a spectacular hilltop fortress with a great view.
You can admire the sweeping agricultural terraces against the backdrop of undulating mountaintops and plummeting gorges — a muted panorama of green and yellow. Spot the open grave holes carved into the mountainside that once held ancient Incan tombs and which have since been ransacked. Then hike back down to the town market via the trail behind the mountain — there’s a good chance you’ll have the path (and views) to yourself.
Then, make your way to the Ollantaytambo temple and fortress by taxi if you’re short on time, or hike if you have a couple of days to spare. Ollantaytambo is one of the starting points for the legendary Inca Trail and celebrated for being a place of victory for the Incans, who managed to resist an attack by the Spanish conquistadors. The steep terraced fortifications are breathtaking up close, and you’ll gain a better understanding as to why the Spanish troops suffered a rare loss in battle at this site. Take a deep breath and climb up to the top for unparalleled views over the town.
Learn About Textiles At A Weaving Co-op
The colourful fabrics of customary Andean dress are iconic to Peru, but easily forgotten when faced with the conspicuous modernity of a city such as Lima. However, in indigenous communities, Quechua women dressed in intricately embroidered skirts, vibrant shawls and bright hats are still a common sight.
In the Sacred Valley, weaving cooperatives made up of women exist to preserve and revitalise the traditional methods of weaving and dyeing textiles that have been passed down from generation to generation. Weaving patterns and styles are unique to a particular village or community, and these groups of women come together to demonstrate their specialised techniques to create textiles, garments and souvenirs to sell to tourists. As well as supporting financial independence for the women, these cooperatives also offer a window into traditional Quechua culture and customs.
Okay, Do The Sunrise at Machu Picchu, But Also Huayna Picchu!
Of course, any list about Peru has to reference the often bucket-listed Machu Picchu — Peru’s star attraction. If there’s anywhere that Pachamama is plainly evident, then this is the place.
Set your alarm clock to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to hike to the Sun Gate and experience the first light as it gradually washes over the Machu Picchu citadel. It is definitely a moment to treasure; take the opportunity to connect with Pachamama in her absolute element. If you’re feeling particularly energised, you can then overcome your fear of heights and climb Huayna Picchu, the towering mountain that looms over Machu Picchu. It’s quite a sight to see.
Lead image: Diego Delso/Flickr