I had the chance to return to Peru (I've been once before) and explore the Sacred Valley with Mountain Lodges of Peru. The focus was their Lares Adventure -- a departure from many of the usual tourist haunts in the Sacred Valley.
Day 1 - Cusco
The trip started in Cusco, at their XO Art House property. For this small BnB, they partnered with a local artist collective to decorate each room. The art is all purchasable, and helpful placards provide more info about each artist and artwork.
We had the chance to see a few classic Cusco attractions before heading to the Sacred Valley. Originally named Intikancha or Intiwasi, what is now called Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús was originally dedicated to Inti, the Sun God. However, when the Spanish arrived, they razed most Inca temples and built churches on top of the foundations.
While the new church has a unique blend of Spanish and Moorish design, the highlights here are the original Inca stonework, which is easily identified by the incredibly precise interlocking masonry. The original temple walls were once covered in sheets of gold, but it was likely all removed to pay a ransom to the Spanish in return for the life of an Inca leader.
Sacsayhuamán, a fortress on the outskirts of Cusco is one of the largest structures we know of that the Inca built. Some of the massive stone blocks reach over 100 tons, and were transported to the site from a quarry over 2 miles away! It is estimated that over 20,000 workers were used the build the fortress, and the walls are an incredible example of the stonemasonry of the Inca. Even today, researchers aren't quite sure how they managed to build massive walls with such precision.
Day 2 - Pisac
We started the next day of our trip by hiking over a 14,200ft pass on our way to the archeological site of Pisac. For some of the group, it was the highest they'd ever been. The views of the surrounding mountains was incredible. Pisac was the home to Inca nobility, as well as Hunaca, an important sacred shrine. It was quite an experience coming down from the pass and seeing the site spread out below us. The engineering prowess of the Inca is breathtaking.
We spent our first night in the Sacred Valley at the Lamay Lodge. Located at the edge of the village of Lamay, the lodge blends heritage with contemporary design. The sunset provided an incredible backdrop for our evening. Also, there are llamas in the backyard!
Day 3 - Choquechanca and Huacahuasi Lodge
After a short visit to the Inca site of Ancasmarca, we headed to the small village of Choquechanca. MLP is the only tour operator that visits this village. Andres, the experience director for MLP, met Senora Maria here quite by accident years ago. They began working with the local community and Maria's weavers to bring visitors here to learn about traditional dyeing and weaving techniques. After using a variety of natural methods to color the wool, some pieces will take Maria or one of her weavers up to 4 months to complete.
There's not really a better word to describe what arriving at the Huacahuasi Lodge felt like. Entering through a long valley, and walking into the main living area as the sun dropped on the horizon was simply magical. The lodge is stunning. Not only do the floor to ceilig windows in the common area have a fantastic view, but each room has its own hot tub looking out into the valley.
Day 4 - Pumamarka and Ollantaytambo
I think everyone in our group got tired of my oooohs and ahhhhs and asking about climbing routes. The mountains around the Sacred Valley are simply stunning, and I really want to go back and climb a few. Unlike Huaraz to the north, the Cusco area is practically undeveloped for more technical trekking and mountaineering.
We stopped at the village of Huilloc, where we participated in a ceremony thanking mother earth (Pachamama) for the continued health of the sheep.
After leaving Huilloc, we hiked up to Pumamarka, another Inca site, and did some afternoon yoga. MLP will have new wellness and yoga focused trips next year. From here, it was a beautiful hike down to Ollantaytambo to finish the day.
Located at an altitude of 2,792 m (9,160 ft) above sea level, Ollantaytambo was once the home of Emperor Pachacuti. Built in the late 15th century, it has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America. The beautiful cobbled streets, irrigation channels, and stone foundations have been here since the time of the Inca.
The most prominent feature in Ollantaytambo is certainly the fortress, said to be built in the shape of a llama. Some of the stone blocks that make up the unfinished Temple of the Sun at the top weigh more than 50 tons, and were transported all the way from a rockslide on the other side of the valley.
We took the train to Aguas Calientes aka Machu Picchu City. As it often is...it was raining. Our guide estimated that it rains at Machu Picchu about 50% of the time, regardless of season. I'll tend to believe him, since I'm now 2/2 on cloudy, rainy, days here.
Regardless of the weather, Machu Picchu is an impressive place to visit. Even now, it is estimated that 35% of the site is still covered in vegetation.
All in all, this visit to Peru was a wonderful experience, and altogether different than the last time I was here. I can't recommend the people at Mountain Lodges of Peru enough. We spent most of our time off the beaten path, not seeing a single other tourist during the day. Now it's just time to start planning some climbing trips to the Cordillera Urubamba...
More information about Mountain Lodges of Peru: https://www.mountainlodgesofperu.com/
Follow along with more of my adventures at @kylefrost