Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it.
Mark Walker discusses Machu Picchu, The Sacred Valley, and his dinner plans.
Let’s start with a play by play, where did you visit?
We went to Lima and stayed at the Westin, which was a super nice hotel, probably one of the nicer hotels in Lima. Lima is your standard big city. We stayed a day or two but we didn’t really see the beach, we were more inland. Instead we did a city tour, drove around, and saw the square.
After, me and my wife flew to Cusco and Cusco is awesome. Way more what you would think Peru would be–quaint, cool buildings, cobblestone streets, busy, and tons of locals. It’s authentic and real. The Sacred Valley, which is about an hour and a half away, have these cool Incan agriculture structures (called Terraces) built down in layers. They grow certain crops on the bottom because it’s cooler and different crops on the top. This little town had these ladies that showed us how they make sweaters by scraping the wool off the sheep and dying it. We got a bunch of souvenirs for our family.
Next day we went on this train and rode up to the base of Machu Picchu. A bus took us another 30 min to the top. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s an Incan city built on a mountainside surrounded by cliffs. A farmer and his wife stumbled upon it, buried and covered in vegetation but now it’s all uncovered and landscaped so you can see temple ruins and houses. We hiked up to the sun gate and from there you can look down and see the whole city. I’ve been to a lot of places in my life and I was still wowed. It was breathtaking. That was the highlight of my trip.
So you highly recommend Machu Picchu?
It would have been cool to have more time at Machu Picchu. I wonder if it would have been better to spend the night at the little village at the bottom of the mountain. We got there and left all in one day. I wish we could have gone up there the night before, got a hotel, woke up in the early morning, and spent the whole day. I would fly down for one-day just to go to Machu Picchu. It was that worth it.
What sets Peru apart from the other countries in the region?
I’ve never been to South America before so I have nothing to compare it to, but Peru itself is unique. Machu Picchu is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it’s as iconic as it gets. Cusco is so authentic, very different from what I’ve been to, different from Europe, different from the Caribbean.
Do you suggest people that come to Peru explore on their own or hire a tour guide?
We had a tour guide for our Cusco city tour. We also had a tour guide in the Sacred Valley. Glad we did, I would have never known where to go. Also, there’s pretty rough roads in the Sacred Valley, I would not want my own car there. We were rushed in Machu Picchu with only four or five hours to see everything. The guide was detailed but we were in a hurry. If we were there longer, we would have done the whole tour but since we wanted to see as much as we could we left on our own. If you’re doing Machu Picchu rushed you almost can’t do a guide or you might not be able to see everything. It was so amazing that we just wanted to go get pictures.
Definitely do a guide in Cusco though because there’s a lot of history there. The tour guide would show us things that we would have thought was just normal that instead were actually significant, like artifacts from the Incan times.
What was the food like?
We tried the guinea pig. They gave me a full fried guinea pig. Visually it made me sick. It’s hilarious and gross. There wasn’t much meat on it, almost like eating ribs without any meat on it. But again, just the thought makes me sick.
It must be funny to them that we keep Guinea Pigs as pets.
The next day we saw these cute little live ones in the Sacred Valley and we were like “I can’t believe we ate that.”
What does it taste like?
It’s not that great, a little weird taste. Not like chicken or steak but it’s the most expensive thing down there, a delicacy at $50 a plate. I would never do it again. My wife got alpaca. Alpaca is gamey; neither of us really liked it. If you ever had buffalo or elk, it was like that.
What was your favorite food then?
Their corn is awesome. The kernels are the size of a quarter. A half a cob and you’re stuffed because it’s so huge and it only costs a dollar from the street stands. Our favorite restaurant was in Cusco. It was called Inka Grill. They had a good variety of food. It had an authentic twist, and was safe, good, and affordable.
When did you go?
We went in June.
It was hot I bet.
It was actually pretty chilly. It’s winter there. Not only that but you’re 13,000 feet above sea level so we wore coats and beanies. When the sun was up at noon, it got kind of warm but we always had our coats with us. Good time to go because it’s probably very hot and humid in their summer. Just hiking up Machu Picchu and we were dripping sweat. We didn’t have hiking shorts, just jeans because it gets cool at night and you’ll need to dress warm again.
How would it be taking a group?
A lot of the things we did, I feel like it would be hard to take a big group because the sites can be crowded and busy. Going out to the Sacred Valley, you would have to cram on these small busses and the roads were skinny on the edge of cliffs and bumpy. It’s a lot of driving and sitting. You would have to rent out several busses. Peru is perfect for small groups, the coolest place ever for you and your friends. If you were to do a larger group, I would recommend staying in Cusco, and then for a couple days take the train up to Machu Picchu and maybe stay a night up there if you can. That would make a good group incentive trip.