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Hidden Gems in the Sacred Valley

The journey was just getting started with Cusco as our plan was to venture onto the Sacred Valley the next day and then Machu Picchu. Descending into the Sacred Valley had much the opposite effect of going into Colca Canyon, as the elevation gradually decreased this time, going from over 11,000 feet to just above 9,000. Still, I was not going anywhere without a steady supply of coca candies.
Chinchero - soon to be the site of the next regional airport?
Chinchero - soon to be the site of the next regional airport? (Jeff Rottschafer)
Church built on the top of the pyramid in Chinchero
Church built on the top of the pyramid in Chinchero (Jeff Rottschafer)

Our first stop was in the small village of Chinchero, only about an hour away from Cusco. We walked along the cobbled, quiet streets as our guide talked about how it was not so long ago that Cusco felt a lot like this quaint little town. However, the village in its current state is almost certainly soon to be a memory as well. As our guide pointed out while gesturing to an open field, this is the site of a large regional airport set to be built sometime in the next few years. Will Chinchero ever rival Cusco as the de facto hub for Machu Picchu? Doubtful, but what is more certain is these sleepy little streets will likely soon be taken over by hotels, shops, and restaurants, and the sounds of roosters and soft music coming from an open doorway will be replaced by beeping car horns and tunes blasting from a popular bar.
Nico and I in front of the Chinchero terraces
Nico and I in front of the Chinchero terraces (Jeff Rottschafer)

Our time in the Sacred Valley was also spent exploring the Living Museum of Yucay - where we learned a lot about weaving and jewelry techniques - as well as a wonderful lunch on the grounds of Posada del Inca just beside a beautiful old church. The day ended with another charming village, this time being the not-so-quiet town of Ollantaytambo.
Narrow streets of Ollantaytambo
Narrow streets of Ollantaytambo (Jeff Rottschafer)
Runs of Ollantaytambo close to sunset
Runs of Ollantaytambo close to sunset (Jeff Rottschafer)

Ollantaytambo is likely best known for the impressive Inca ruins built into the hillside as well as the home of the train station most commonly used for most travelers to get to Machu Picchu, but it is not commonly thought of as a place with many trendy or hip locales. On a whim, our guide decided to take us to a museum, coffee shop, and wine bar named Alqa that had been creating some buzz on Instagram. The staff and owners were more than happy to show off their beautiful grounds and exquisitely made coffee while also letting us know that they had a small dinner menu should we want to come back in a few hours. Since Ollantaytambo is not a town known for a lot of variety with its restaurants we took the small risk, walking back up there shortly after dark. We were met with a wonderful plate of local cheeses, alpaca prosciutto, unique potato dishes and an incredible sauce made from a mint-like herb. Add in the beautiful courtyard and some delicious Peruivan wine, and it was pretty clear that we had made the right choice for dinner.
Back in the Alqa courtyard for our dinner!
Back in the Alqa courtyard for our dinner! (Jeff Rottschafer)

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