That time we hired mopeds and got lost in the Sacred Valley.
Where? Sacred Valley, Peru
When? August 2018
With whom? Martin and Daan.
In Cusco we were staying in a party hostel called Wild Rover. We had had recommendations of this place from an Irish couple we befriended in Banos who had said that this hostel is Irish owned and offers a great view of the ancient historical part of Cusco. It did not disappoint.
Our Irish friends also suggested hiring a moped on one of our acclimatisation days; most Machu Picchu tour companies suggest a few days in Cusco to acclimatise to the high altitude at 3,400m so that you don’t suffer from altitude sickness during your hike or visit. Martin and I both felt it a little on the first day in Cusco, I had what felt like growing pains in my legs and Martin felt very sick and had lots of headaches. We decided for once to follow advice and set aside two days and three nights for our bodies to adjust and we were grateful for it.
On our first evening, we tried out an Indian Peruvian fusion restaurant called Korma Sutra. Honestly, we only went because the name made us giggle but it was such a good place to eat. As soon as you walk in, the smell is so thick you can taste the curry and it was delicious. Here we tried Guinea pig, a Peruvian delicacy.
Afterwards we checked out the bar at the hostel where we took part in a pub quiz, making friends with fellow travelers. Enter Daan, as one of the people we chatted to that night and happened to also be in our dorm. He started chatting to us at the bar and as soon as he said he was from the Netherlands, I counted to 21 in Dutch. That was possibly the pisco talking as this guy who was fluent in English picked up on how he was meant to be impressed with my 21 Dutch words, and I must say he played the part well.
The three of us explored Cusco the next day, stopping in at the San Pedro Market to buy some alpaca wool goods, because you haven’t really been to Cusco until you’ve haggled over a jumper. We asked every stand the cost of alpaca socks and got answers ranging from 6 soles to 28 soles, so make sure you shop around!
We passed a man called Frank with a few mopeds in his truck and got chatting to him, and he said we could hire one for a day for 70 soles (about 15GBP). Deal. We met him early in the morning and signed our lives away, hiring two mopeds between the three of us with their logic being I’m small so won’t be noticeable. Frank let us follow him out of town so hat he could put us on the road to our first planned stop, Pisac. He said goodbye and to follow this one road for 45 minutes.
It was beautiful. First, we climbed. Climbing out of the city gave us amazing views of the city, before we crossed over to the other side of the mountain to begin our descent into the valley. It was cold, so we stopped at a mirador (viewpoint) where some ladies were selling their wares, including alpaca wool gloves. I bought these for 4 soles, so much cheaper than in Cusco that I forgot to haggle! But if I think it’s a good deal and so does she, then everyone’s a winner.
The descent had us passing many tour buses doing the same route as us, but they stopped only at the tourist mirador, whereas we were able to choose our own, and these were obviously had much better views. It was liberating to have the independence to stop when we we wanted as well as the wind in our hair and the peaceful stops without the crowds.
We arrived at Pisac and parked up. We ahd to buy tickets here, and decided to get the 70 soles ticket that included a few other stops that we intended to make on our excursion.
Pisac was breathtaking. It was perfectly situated in the mountain range to give us an amazing view of different colours down the side of the mountain opposite, almost untouched by man, then had tiered agricultural planes carved into the mountain on which we were standing.
Short on time with a 60km/hr top speed on our mopeds and our required hiking group meeting in Cusco at 6pm, we ran around the top of this mountain, making sure we got to see everything but sprinting upstairs at an altitude of 4,000m was no easy feat. To reward ourselves we stopped at a traditional stonebaked empanada stand where we watched our food get made and cooked.
We wanted to go directly to Calca but Google maps was not our friend. We ended up on a dirt track for 10 miles on the opposite side of the river to the main road where we could have maxed out our top moped speed. We longingly stared at the trucks, buses and cars zipping off in the distance on the perfectly smooth tarmacked road as we took it very slowly on our narrow, rocky and treacherous alternative.
We found a bridge which joined the main road but had to skip Calca and Urubamba, where we planned to stop for lunch and head straight towards Moray and Salinas, prioritising the coolest looking attractions from our options. We stopped for fuel and experienced Peruvian temporary traffic lights, which involved two traffic wardens with walkie talkies and reversible stop/go signs.
Driving up the mountain out of the valley gave so many potential miradors, but pushed for time I haphazardly pointed the camera in the general direction hoping for a semi decent shot of the great views!
We almost got lost on our way to Moray, but you have to keep going until it feels like you’ve gone too far. Moray is made up of concentric circle terraces, and it’s only when you see a human standing in the middle that you truly appreciate the sheer magnitude of the place. That is, until the guard with a very loud whistle starts telling you off for straying from the path..
We saved the best for last; Maras salt mines consists of hundreds of salt baths clothing the hill all the way down the mountainside. It costs and extra 10 soles but is well worth the extra cost. We were so astounded as we rounded the corner to the first sight of all of the baths that we stopped to take it all in.
We walked among the baths admiring the locals as they reaped the salt as the water evaporated. We followed the path, occasionally straying. We tried the salt, and I don’t know what else I was expecting than it tasting very salty..
Our journey back to Cusco was rushed, so we took a shortcut passing Huaypo Lake, one of the few lakes that surround Cusco at altitude. It was stunning, but again, we didn’t have the time to stop for it. We not only needed to get back to Cusco, but had to get there in time to give the mopeds back and get to our briefing across town. In our haste, Daan had an accident and fell off his moped. This serves as a reminder that there are dangers and activities like this should be taken seriously with all the safety equipment. Ensure that your Frank provides helmets.
Info: it doesn’t need to be booked in advance before you get to Cusco, but try to sort out the arrangements the previous day so that you have the whole day to explore the valley. There are plenty of tour operators in the historical part of town (the tourist area) that will rent mopeds so shop around!
We stayed in three hostels when we were in Cusco, all of them so called “party hostels”. We are a bit older than the gap yahs who were drinking all night and sleeping all day, plus that’s not our style of travel because we actually want to see things and have experiences like we did exploring the Sacred Valley. The hostels went out of the way to ensure that it caters for our types too, by having a great bar with rooms in a separate building or further away so that when we want to sleep, we can. I can recommend both Pariwana and Wild Rover. I won’t mention the third one, as I wouldn’t recommend staying there.
If you are going on a tour, most hostels will hold your bags for you for a few days while you go to Machu Picchu or Lake Titicaca at no extra cost.
Tip of the week: In Cusco there are a lot of bars and restaurants aimed at tourists, so if you fancy pizza, have pizza. A Guinness? Try the highest 100% owned Irish bar in the world. We had been travelling for a while by the time we got there and indulged in a few home comforts like Korma Sutra, and visiting the Irish bar to get a free poster! Try not to forget immersing yourself into the local delicacies, like guinea pig and beef heart on a stick. The guinea pig was lovely.
Product of the week: make sure you get yourself some alpaca wool clothes. They come in jackets, socks, glove, and hat form, and probably other things too. It is so effective at keeping humans warm as well as alpacas, and altitude makes things very cold. San Pedro Market used to be where it’s at with buying alpaca wool but Cusco has become so touristy that you can find alpaca wool clothes anywhere you look.