24th to 25th Nov: Enjoying Cusco
It’s easy to see why some people fly to Lima and then directly to Cusco, skipping the rest of Peru. It is a fantastic city, the ancient capital of the Incas and the perfect starting point for an adventure into the sacred Valley. Surrounded by so many archaeological sites and great towns giving you the very best of Peruvian culture, it is no surprise that Cusco is the beating heart of tourism in South America.
Arriving by bicycle was much more satisfying than flying in, and our first day in Cusco was also my birthday.
We visited the Plaza de Armas, with its fountain topped by a golden Pachacuteq, the ruler of the Incas, we ate Ceviche at San Pedro market and visited an array of shops and stalls selling alpaca knitwear. The evening was spent drinking beer and Pisco sours with the predominantly French cyclists and backpackers at our hostel, Hospedaje Estrellitas.
The next day we strolled to the ‘Municipalidad’ on avenida del sol to buy our Boleto turistico which is a ticket that gives you entrance to every site except Machupicchu for 130 soles.
26th Nov: Pisac 34km
Having bought new tyres, in the morning, we set out by bicycle towards Pisac. The road is a steep climb up to a big white Jesus and the very impressive ruins of a fort called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman).
Then there were the ruins of an astrological site called Qenqo, a fort called Puka Pukara (it means “red fort” and is much nicer than it sounds) and a Inca water system called Tambo Machay. We finished the day with a cold but stunning descent to Pisac.
27th Nov: Visiting the Pisac ruins
Pisac was lovely and we decided to spend a whole day there. A beautiful market town full of alpaca clothes and rugs with the most amazing colours and patterns, it also had many vegetarian restaurants and coffee shops. The imposing ruins which sit above the town were really worth visiting. We paid 25 soles to go up 13km to the entrance, and spent hours walking around the huge complex, enjoying the spectacular views before starting the long walk back down.
28th Nov: Urabamba 39km
We cycled to Calca which was just a small town with nothing happening, but shortly after Calca there is a very new and well presented museum called Museo Inkiray (tickets 32 soles but we asked for a a discount and got in for 25 each). In English and Spanish, it gives you a good understanding of the civilizations from Caral to Inkas, and each room features a scene with lifelike models to transport you back in time.
When we left the museum I realised I needed to be transported back to Pisac where I had left out spare tyres in the hostel! Idiot! Fortunately there were frequent buses and the tyres were still at the hostel. After an hour we were back on our bikes to complete the ride to Urubamba.
29th Nov: Ollantaytambo 18km
After the short ride to Ollantaytambo, we visited the ruins which were also very impressive. The town was a bit of a tourist trap but we had heard about a party at a brewery and I wasn’t going to miss that! The cerveceria del valle (“sacred valley brewing company”) have a party on the last Saturday of each month. Their beer is excellent and Juan and Jo were fine hosts.
30th Nov: Aguas Calientes by buses/walking
It’s possible but extremely difficult to reach Aguas Calientes by bike. The only easy way is to take a train. There is another option. We attempted the very tricky route by taxi to Santa Maria then bus to Santa Teresa, then a car to Hidroelectrica, and an 8km walk by the rail tracks. It took all day and heavy rain meant we arrived tired and very wet.
1st Dec: Walking to Machupicchu
Machupicchu is spectacular. It’s actually not that high, at around 2400m. There is a 2km, very steep walk uphill to reach it, and we were unlucky to have an extremely wet and cloudy day. Despite being up at 5am, and trudging slowly up to the entrance, we had to wait 2 hours for the rain to pass and hours for the clouds to clear so we could take photos. But when the clouds cleared it was amazing.
2nd Dec: Back to Ollantaytambo by train and by bike back to Urubamba 18km
When we returned to Ollantaytambo we took the sensible option and caught the train. It was a little pricey but took just 2 hours and was extremely pleasant. Unlike the man at Las Portadas, our hostel. I thought we would stay an extra night and do some washing. We had been served by a woman and it had all been no problem. But then we met this guy who had a real attitude. Paola had asked him for towels and he refused to give us any, saying they were all being washed which was odd. We were washing some clothes and had asked the woman if it was ok and she had brought a bowl for us. He then started objecting to how many clothes we were washing. I told him it was too late as the clothes were already wet and I needed to finish. He didn’t stop. And we knew he was being petty and had lied about the towels. He was so rude I decided to leave even though my washing was wet. As we tried to leave he demanded money for storing the bikes. I said we had not been told we would need to pay anything for that and he started getting angry and grabbing my bike. I pushed him off and it started getting nasty. He locked Paola’s bike in the room and told me I would have to break the door. After a stand-off where I refused to pay, and told him we would call the police, he eventually let us take the bikes. We left feeling very stressed and angry. It was such a shame. Do NOT go to the Portadas.
We cycled back to Urubamba and found a nice hostel with a very nice owner and had no further drama.
3rd Dec: Maras 28km including a fun 5km dirt track to Moray! (Taxi to Salineras).
There was a steep climb to Maras and then a quite well hidden dirt track which leads to the strange circular ruins at Moray. There is a very steep and rocky ravine at one point which meant we had to get off the bikes and walk. It’s not far but it’s a bumpy ride. The site at Moray was once a huge agricultural centre. The symmetry of the huge circles is fascinating. After an easier return back along the track to Maras, we considered cycling down to Salineras. The amazing salt mines at Salineras are also just 5km away, but involve a steep descent and climb back up on unpaved road. It was late so we took a taxi for 20 soles.
4th Dec: Chinchero 25km
The climbing continued all the way to Chinchero. Near to the top we met a Yorkshireman on a mountain bike. Jamie had rented a house in Cusco and was out trying to find nice mountain bike routes. A brilliant bloke, this guy bought us beers in Chinchero where we laughed our heads off, especially at his Mario Bros. mushroom tattoo!
5th Dec: Back to Cusco 30km
We nursed stinking hangovers for the last push to get back to Cusco. When we arrived, we met a guy called Alvaro and a guy called Eric. Both were funny, but Alvaro was actually a clown, known as “Biciclown”. We already knew him from Facebook. He gave up his lawyer career and has been on the road for 12 years! He seemed incredibly sane, content with his life, and a very nice guy. It was quite a privilege.
It had been an exhausting but exhilarating 12 days, but what memories.
Just 192km cycling the sacred valley (I don’t count walking, buses, or trains)
4952km in South America
26,460km so far around the world
Thanks for reading,
Ed, the thirsty cyclist