Since we were going on a 1 night, 2 day trip, we had to packed everything. I had already purchased several things and could not fit everything into my luggage. So I put them in bags, shoved in backpack, asked my companions to store things for me…. It was a mess. (Tip for next trip, bring a bigger luggage!)
Once we checked out, we called an Uber and got to Fabian Tour and left our luggage there. Fabian had a lot of tour groups that did the 2 day trip and come back to Cusco. So his office had a luggage storage space. Also, he had a lot of Korean tourist who came to his office so he had a small food mart setup. He sold Korean ramyeon and soju. If you needed something spicy for the road, you could check out his mart.
While at the office, we met up with the group. Again, I didn’t want to travel by myself so I found more solo travelers to travel with me. We had to pay extra because we had 5 people in our group. So they gave us a 3 row SUV, 2 person per row and 1 at the front. I originally was only looking for 3 more people to do the tour with to fit into 1 vehicle but they do say, more the merrier, right? Plus, the SUV was very spacious and comfortable for 5 tourist and the driver.
The 2 day trip started with the first day being the Sacred Valley Tour. They had several small stops for us to see.
1st stop: Small weaving shop to learn of natural dying process and to shop to support the tradition. The ladies at this location demonstrated the dying process and talked about which materials make what color. The natural dyes were beautiful! I didn’t realize you could get so many vibrant colors from plants and other natural ingredients. After the dying process, they also talked about the weaving process. It was very educational. However, the items were more pricy here.
2nd stop: Chinchero: Before we headed into Chinchero, we bought our tour pass. This pass includes 4 tourist sites: Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and Chinchero. The cost was 70 sol. Since we were planning on going to 3 of these sites, the pass was the way to go. There was a student option but not for the cheaper pass. Or at least when one of our companion tried, they only gave her the option for the more extensive (and expensive) pass. Maybe it is only for locals?
After purchasing the pass, we walked for 5 minutes up steps and found an open market on the ruins. They were selling all kinds of souvenirs from handmade bracelets to musical instruments. And the vendors were willing to negotiate so you need to work on your haggling skills.
The ruins were located on top of a hill so it had a good view of the valley. While we were here, we saw the building that was on the pass, and also the step ruins on the side. It was a lot bigger than I expected. The stone walls were impressive! I don’t know how they made them all fit so perfectly. We were only given 30 minutes here so we had to quickly look around and get back to the van.
Once again, we were back on the road to our 3rd stop: Salineras de Maras. Salt Flats. This was the main event and since it was not included in the pass, we paid 10 sol extra. I can honestly say this was the best place out of all the places we visited today. We were given 40 minutes to tour the place but wasn’t nearly enough time. If you are on a tour, negotiate with your driver to see if you can stay here longer.
Once inside, we took some pictures by the salt beds. The pools were all different sizes and different colors; all on plateaus, featuring a good view. I tried the running water and it was really salty (also don’t do this because because it’s not very clean, according to the guide. He told me after I did it). We didn’t get to explore all of the flats due to time and just saw what they had at the entrance. Once we turned around and started to head out, we stopped by the stands here that sold salt goods like bath salts, salt chocolate, and more. They even had a musician playing a traditional instrument. We looked around for a bit and purchased a salt chocolate. I mean, chocolate and salt is a thing, right? But it was way too salty! How can you mess up chocolate?
Afterward, we had lunch. Our driver took us to a restaurant on the way to our next stop. Inka Sal was the name and it had variety of foods, mostly Peruvian. They also had sandwiches and spaghetti and such. I got Chicharron de pollo (fried chicken) with yuka fries and papaya juice. The food was good but the juice was lukewarm! If you want it cold, you have to let them know beforehand. The sodas were fresh out of the fridge so they were cold but I’m guessing the fruit wasn’t. The spaghetti was a bit salty so ask for less salt!
Once we filled out belly, it was time for our 4th stop: Morray. Not sure what the purpose of this was but many believe it was a testing place for agriculture. A tour group passed us while we were talking photos so I got a 2 second spiel on the ruins. We had about 25 minutes to walk around. From the picture, you cannot tell how enormous this place is but it was unbelievable. And it wasn’t just one, which made this even more impressive. Tourist are not allowed to go into the ruins so you have to view it from the top and even then, it is impressive.
After a quick lookaround, we had to continue. 5th stop? I wouldn’t call this a stop but a passby. We passed by Urubamba, a small town. The road from Morray to Urubamba was crazy! It had a lot of hairpin turns, 1 car only roads, unpaved roads. Even our car engine stopped once on the road. It was quite scary and caused several of us in the car to get motion sickness.
And once we were back on the paved road, we headed to our last stop. Ollantaytambo. We had 45 minutes to see the ruins here. We had a bit of a scare here when one of our companion said that she might have lost her pass. If you lost it, that is it for the pass since they don’t keep a record of it. It took her a minute but luckily, she found her pass and we were in. A stone fortress with large stone terraces. The city was surrounded by mountains and it provided a good cover. On the other side, there were also carving of sort that probably was for protecting the city. Again, the walls were way too high for us and not enough time. We only climbed 1/3 of the way and had to make our way down to meet with the driver again.
Once we met with our driver, we headed to the train station. The road to the station was jam packed so we decided to get off early and walk to the station. The reason why it was so packed was because there was a train that just arrived and many were waiting taxis.
We waited for our train to be called. We were on the Voyager through the Inca Rail. The other option is with PeruRail. People were starting to line up by their train car letters. We were going to Aguas Calientes, a city at the entrance to Machu Picchu. The view on the way was beautiful. The windows were large and offered a great view of the mountains and the river. While on the train, we were offered a free drink, a cookie, and chocolate for the ride. Both side of the train had a good view of the mountains but if you want the river view, sit on the left side.
At Aguas Calientes, we met with Fabian’s tour guide but walked separately to our hotel. We booked a separate accommodation from the tour because of the reviews they had. Also, do not book accommodation without reading the reviews. Just looking at the google map, you will not know what you are getting into. Aguas Calientes is all hills (a bit steep) and you might end up booking a place that is way up the hill. We stayed at a place called Perupunta B & B and it was half way up the hill, much higher than the place our tour was staying at.
The B&B seemed rather new. There were a lot of building being built and renovated when we were there. It was also on the main street, surrounded by restaurants and other shops. Right after we checked in, we ventured around the shopping district and checked out what they had. Even though this was a small town, they had everything, even a bookshop. I ended up exchanging some more money here at a slightly higher rate but not by much. However, if you do want to save money, exchanged at Cusco for a better deal. Once we got back to our B&B, we grabbed some local ice cream from the shop next door. They had popular flavors like chocolate and vanilla but also had original flavors like Andes Mint and Chicha Morada. I wanted something local so I tried the Andes Mint and it was so good!! It wasn’t super sweet and the mint was very refreshing.
We did not want to stay up too late since we knew we had a full day ahead. We were all very excited for Machu Picchu and we wanted to be in our best condition so we headed to bed, dreaming about what’s next.