Machu Picchu wasn't the highlight
Peru has been on my bucket list for as long as i remember, and i always thought Macchu Picchu would be the highlight of my trip, but it was not. Not because it is not impressive, breathtaking, or inspiring, it is for sure all of these things and more, but because everything else was even more touching, especially the people of Peru.
I started my trip in the Sacred Valley to beat the altitude sickness as you need a couple of days for acclimatization to be on the safe side, but altitude affects everyone differently (it is a genetic predisposition).
Lima at 1550m
Arequipa at 2380m
Machu Picchu at 2450m
Ollantaytambo at 2790m
Cusco at 3300m
Puno (Lake Titicaca) at 3860m
Arequipa at 2380m
So Plan your travels from low altitude to high altitude places. The best way to help prevent altitude sickness is making sure that you stay well-hydrated (drink LOTS of water) and avoid caffeine and alcohol for the first few days. Also take it slow, as you might feel tired; I was extremely tired during the hike and was short of breath but the scenery made it all worthwhile. Hotels have oxygen tanks and i had to ask for one during my stay at Lake Titicaca even though i came from Cusco.
There is so much to do and see in the Sacred Valley, and these were my favorite:
Pisac Market: popular for its huge and colorful Sunday market, a good place to shop for local souvenirs. Women are dressed in their finest, usually with a colorfully dressed child; they are there to pose for photographs, and will expect money if you take their picture.
Pisac Ruins: famous for their rows of agricultural terraces cut into the mountainside and held in place by stone walls
Moray: The fascinating and impressive symmetrical circular terraces. You ask why? Because each of the different levels of terracing has its own microclimate, which the Incas are thought to have used for testing the optimal growing conditions for their crops. With this information, the Incas could determine what areas were best for growing various crops, which in turn determined where they should settle.
Salinas de Maras: Salt mines. An astonishing mountainside lined with 5,740 small pools, called pocitos. Each pool can yield 150 kilos of salt a month.
The Skylodge Adventure Suitesof Natura Vive are a set of capsules where a maximum of 12 people can stay a night or visit for lunch, all at 1,312 feet above the valley. To get there you need to climb a mountain via ferrata or by zip-lining. You need to book your stay or lunch at least two months in advance.
Mountain Lodges of Peru invited me to experience one of their typical adventure days, so i joined them for a one day hike as my schedule was packed so couldnt do the whole itinerary. Basically they offer hiking from one lodge to another through the Andes Mountains eventually arriving at Machu Picchu, but by a different route than the more better-known (and more crowded) Inca Trail. We explored breathtaking landscapes, cultural immersions, and luxury trekking without having to sleep in tents at the end of the day with no hot showers.