After our brief stay in Lima, we boarded a flight to Cusco.  Once we landed in Cusco we began the drive to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley at 9,420 feet elevation.

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En route to Urubamba we stopped at Ollantaytambo:

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During the Incan Empire, Ollantaytambo was the site of the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti and also served as a ceremonial center.  Ollantaytambo was a good “warm up” to the Incan ruins and architecture that we would see later on the trip at Machu Picchu.

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En route to our hotel, we were treated to an authentic Peruvian meal prepared by a local family.  So, of course there was cuy on the menu.

What’s cuy, you ask?

Why, it’s GUINEA PIG!

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Did I try it? 

Yes!  (When in Rome…er, when in Peru, rather…).

Cuy tasted more appetizing than it looked (although, you see the picture – that’s a low standard since it more or less resembled deep fried rat).  It had a bit of a “gamey” taste, and it was difficult to get more than a small bite of meat since a guinea pig is mostly skin and lots of tiny bones.  Aside from the cuy, all of the traditional Peruvian food was delicious.

After we ate, the woman in the village demonstrated how they weave alpaca wool and dye it using natural plants and berries.

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By the time we arrived to San Agustin Hotel, we were exhausted, but we were delighted to find that the hotel was lovely!  The rooms were large with comfortable king size beds, and the grounds of the hotel was gorgeous.  Although just outside the city center, it was a short walk to the middle of town where a handful of restaurants and shops could be found.  This hotel was a huge step up from the one in Lima, and I would certainly recommend it to fellow travelers.

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Courtyard at San Agustin

The next day was a “free day” on our own in Urubamba.  We opted not to take the optional organized tour and instead planned our own day of horseback riding in the Andes… this turned out to be a wise choice, because (aside from seeing Machu Picchu) the day we spent on horseback in Urubamba was my favorite day in Peru!

After spending quite a bit of time researching different companies for our horseback trek, we chose to book with Apupacha Horse Adventures for our private guided trek and tour.   Although it was an expensive day by Peruvian standards (about $110 per person), it was well worth it.  We chose Apupacha because we wanted a guide who we felt safe with and a company that treated the horses humanely.  I had read several articles and reviews on other companies who keep their horses malnourished and fail to tend to the horse’s hoofs, which need constant attention since the animals are trekking the rocky mountains day-in and day-out.

Our guide picked us up from our hotel in the morning and drove us to town where our horses were waiting for us.  We left the city and began our adventure by riding into the Andes!

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Naturally, I had the most stubborn and naughty horse.  On more than one occasion my horse stopped dead in his tracks and planted a backwards kick to my husband’s horse.  (I swear I had nothing to do with it…)!

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After a few hours on horseback, we came to the ancient archaeological site of Moray.

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The Inca ruins at Moray are large, terraced circular depressions that archeologists believe the Incas used to study the effects of different climate conditions on crops.

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After exploring the ruins, we continued our horseback journey.  The vistas were incredible… some of the most beautiful that I have seen anywhere in the world!  We rode through farms, over streams and on mountain ledges (so high and steep that I had some anxiety during these portions of the trip).

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After riding a bit longer, we stopped near a creek to allow the horses to eat and drink and to enjoy our picnic lunch in a small shady grove.   The lunch provided by Apupacha was a filling spread of chicken, fruits and vegetables.  Following lunch, we continued on horseback for a couple more hours with one last stop for the day – the village of Moras.

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Moras is known for their terraced salt evaporation ponds that have been used to cultivate salt since the Incan times.  Admittedly, salt mines didn’t initially sounds too exciting to me, but they were actually very pretty.  It was an enjoyable, short stop before heading back to town.

By the time we were dropped off back at our hotel, we were exhausted and sore from a long day of riding.  We headed to bed to get a couple extra hours of sleep before we had to wake up early the next morning to start the most anticipated day of our trip – Machu Picchu.

This post is part of a series on Peru.  Click here to read my other Peru posts.

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