A Photo Journal: Peru Reaches New Heights
Cusco is a challenging city to reach, and Machu Picchu even more so. But that's what make those spots so exciting and coveted, right?
I learned to pace my walking (and climbing) while exploring this corner of Peru due to the extreme altitudes - especially as someone coming from sea level. I also left Peru with a sense of accomplishment and a greater appreciation for Pachamama.
I admit, I have some catching up to do. I jet-setted off to Peru back in June of this year. I'm now sharing these photos in December, but - you know- life.
For some reason, I never really pictured myself traveling to South America, and I'm not sure why. I love Europe, and have only ever been to Europe, and there's still so much to see in Europe.
But one of my oldest friends took a gig in Cusco teaching English for about six months, and I thought if I'm going to go, it's going to be now.
So I planned and packed for my first solo trip since my initial inauguration to international travel back in 2012 when I studied abroad in Italy. And yes, I was meeting a friend there, but I hadn't traveled to place alone in a very long time.
It was honestly a weird feeling - who do I chat with when I'm bored sitting in an airport. Who do I leave my luggage with when I just need to make a quick run to the bathroom without losing my seat in the lounge, ugh.
But anyway, after three flights, I landed in Cusco, literally breathless (from the high altitude) but also from the amazing architecture, people, and culture that was so foreign to me.
Cusco Day 1
We spent the day gently meandering around Cusco in an attempt to help me acclimate to the high elevation and try to avoid any serious altitude sickness. I made it out with just a few days of mild headaches, thankfully.
My first impressions were that Cusco was lively, colorful, and full of adorable alpacas.
The Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu
Reaching Machu Picchu is... an endeavor, and a commitment. Just look at it! We took a car, a bus, a train, and and another bus deep into the mountains of Peru in order to reach this magical place.
But first! The journey getting to Aguas Calientes, which is the nearest town to the ancient ruins, is also an amazing experience in itself.
You pass through the eternally mystical Sacred Valley - a part of the earth blessed by the ancient Andean culture and influence.
And you see their presence everywhere from the town of Pisac to the staggering Ollantaytambo ruins (among many, many other famous archeological sites).
After a 14 hour day of traveling and hiking, we finally rolled into Aguas Calientes late that evening.
With our remaining energy, we stumbled into a tiny, family-own restaurant before passing out that evening in anticipation of our 5am wake-up call.
Today was the day. I was hiking Machu Picchu.
We were gifted with blue skies, 70 degree-weather, and a hilarious guide. Honestly though, the weather conditions could not have been more perfect for the jaw-dropping, unobstructed views I got to witness that morning.
That afternoon, we made the long trek back to Cusco (remember: bus, train, bus, car). And as if this trip couldn't get any more exhilarating, it did.
That next day, we were on the books to climb to Peru's highest hanging hotel, and what was also the first hanging hotel in the world. This insane experience is known as the SkyLodge.
If you're keen on scaling a vertical cliff via a network of cables and very small iron rungs jutting out of the rock, then this is for you.
If you'd like to read my full experience in fearful and hilarious detail, I have a featured article on this global travel site that you can check out here: Sleep Like a Condor in Peru's Only Cliff-Hanging Capsule Hotel.
All I'll say for now is that it was crazy hard and absolutely terrifying, but it was amazing in the end.
And that next morning, we took a series of zip-lines back down the way we came up, and I was soon on my way to the Cusco airport to start the journey back to Seattle.
What a week!