So here’s the deal, seven years ago I came to Peru and backpacked from the south to the north. Upon revisiting Peru, I have found that a lot has changed. The ticket to enter the ruin site of Machu Picchu has quadrupled in price, and the amount of people allowed to visit the already crowded site daily has more than doubled. Paul and I strive to be the type of tourists who don’t put ourselves above touristy stuff. We enjoy being tourists of tourism, but this seemed like too much. This might make us sound kind of redneck, but when we are at ruin sites, we both sometimes leave wondering if we were supposed to get more out of it. Perhaps our lack of research, or accurate historical information might leave us with an impoverished experience. Maybe we should hire guides? Perhaps my merely visual appreciation for these historic works of functional art is not enough? I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the fact that I have already seen Machu Picchu, and that Paul doesn’t place a high value on ancient ruin sites, was enough to strike it off our list. My idea of a rich cultural experience is eating and drinking with local people. Sharing stories and laughs as well as inevitable cultural misunderstandings is what really makes a trip for me. In southern Peru we struggled with being on what is known as the “gringo trail”. We wanted to enjoy all that it had to offer but often didn’t quite know what to make of this particular type of tourism.
We decided to go budget and bought a sacred valley multi ruin site ticket (it still set us back 50 USD a piece). I don’t know why there has been a spike in price over the past eight years, but I sincerely hope that the Incan people whose ancestor’s cultural sites are on display are benefitting. With this price, we were allowed into ten ruin sites, and six museums. We did our best, but got pretty ‘ruined’ after only six sites. My favourite site was the agricultural centre of Moray. This was a half day’s drive out of Cuzco. The Incan terracing was apparently used as a scientific testing ground to determine and utilize optimal growing environments for their crops. It looks pretty damn cool.
We both liked the site of Ollantaytambo as well. There were some impressive rock works, and part of this site’s charm is the quaint town which the ruins overlook. We spent the night in Ollantaytambo happy that we waited out the rain and the parade of colourful poncho-clad tourists to check out the site a half hour before closing. Parades of tourists are, for better or for worse, part of the Incan ruin experience.
Paul’s favourite site was Tipon. It consisted of large terraced fields surrounded by functional aqueducts- one good thing about visiting the highlands in the wet season. This site was a little bit out of the way, buses cannot drive the steep road up to the site, which helped to make it a lot less busy when we got there.
We did what any reasonable tourist would do in Cuzco, which is eat. Paul and I discovered alpaca meat. For those of you who don’t know what an alpaca is, it is pretty much the most wonderful animal ever. It is super cute, its wool is warmer and softer than sheep’s wool (and doesn’t itch) and it tastes delicious. Our alpaca steaks were excellent. They were tender, not too gamey, but also incredibly well prepared on a bed of quinoa risotto. We liked them so much we went back to the same restaurant for the same meal two nights in a row. How’s that for a restaurant review? Cuzco was good for what it was good for: oogling colonial buildings, checking out ruins, and spoiling ourselves with extravagant eating and shopping. We also found mezcal for the first time since Guatemala. Though Cuzco and the Sacred Valley have changed a lot since my last visit, it remains an excellent place to visit, and has a lot to offer. Mom and dad- you have to come here with me someday, you would love it.