By Crooked Trails participant Katie Skudlarick
Who do you call when you have a burning desire to see Machu Picchu, only ten days to do it in and a strict budget? Why Crooked Trails of course! Even with those constraints they were able to create an experience for me that was eye opening and life changing and I never want to travel any other way again!
The first challenge to my trip was that I had a specific set of dates I could travel on (and only ten days!). With just a few phone calls and emails they were able to find me and my friend the flights that would fit our requirements. With that in place it was time to sync up the rest of the trip. With our interests in mind we were offered a sample itinerary as an overview to shape our experience. Top of the list aside from Machu Picchu, was to take part in the homestay and service project in Chinchero. From that they were able to recommend an impressive itinerary that fit our budget and would allow for immersion in the wonders of living in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
The trip began with 3 days in Cusco to acclimatize and explore the city and the Inca sites that surround it. Upon arrival we were met by a representative of the hotel and driven back to the enchanting Casa del Campo. The views from the hotel were breathtaking and surely not the kind a traveler on a budget expects! A brief walk from the hotel led to the Plaza de Armas where the dining options were endless. A regular traveler would probably have some hits and misses when it came to the local cuisine but armed with Tammy’s recommendations we dined on the freshest Peruvian fare available. Upon returning home I sought out recipes to recreate those memorable dishes but soon found that the ingredients indigenous to Peru are what make them truly sing.
Day 2 day in Cusco we were met at the hotel by Romo, one of our many excellent guides from One Earth Peru and Lourdes who was our local contact. She met us to go over the itinerary for our entire trip and make us feel comfortable and answer any questions. She also coordinated our pick up times to and from the hotel to Chinchero and Machu Picchu and back (Lourdes took a personal interest in us and often checked in throughout the trip and personally accompanied us on the ride back to Cusco after our day at Machu Picchu. Again our expectations were exceeded.
That day we were treated to a walking tour of Cusco and explored Saqsayhuman by horse ride. Lunch was provided and we were able to picnic with Romo. His sense of humor and knowledge of Cusco were a treat. He had wonderful stories and his sense of humor and knowledge of Peru entertained us completely and also gave us his recommendations on places to explore on our third day before we headed to Chinchero.
From there we spent four days living in the village of Chinchero in the guest house of our host family, Paulino, Vilma and their wonderful children and cook Maria. Once again our accommodations and the people we encountered far exceeded any expectations. What a beautiful town with such rich traditions and amazing people. I will never forget my stay in Chinchero. Waking up to the view of the sunrise from the guest house and the smells of Maria’s hot breakfasts are something one needs to experience themselves, no words can do it justice.
Along with guided tours of the ruins and churches in Chinchero we were able to participate in the smokeless stove work project in Usambamba just a short drive away from Chinchero. We met community members and families of Usambamba who took the time to share their life experiences with us and saw first-hand how the smokeless stove project was positively impacting their lives and would be for generations to come. There is so much more to say about Chinchero and the Quechua lifestyle but I came to Peru thinking Machu Picchu would be the highlight of my trip and in reality it was my time in Chinchero. I can’t wait to go back with my kids.
After our goodbyes Paulino drove us to the town of Ollantaytambo for an overnight stay at the peaceful Apu Lodge and a guided walking tour of the ruins. In the morning we took the first train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu and had our own private guide to tour us around Machu Picchu. What a luxury. Not at any time on my trip did I feel like I was missing out on anything due to my restricted budget, especially when it came to the top notch tour guides and one on one service. We saw many less fortunate travelers who were being herded about the ruins.
Travelling through Crooked Trails opened my eyes to what really being an active traveler means. For me it was a way to connect with the places and people in Peru and as I said I will never go back to passive travelling again. I can’t wait for my next Crooked Trails adventure!
Crooked Trails can create a private, custom program for you in ANY of the countries we work in! Please contact Tammy @ CrookedTrails (dot) org to inquire.
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