Finally after days of working remotely, my true vacation started at noon! First, our morning started with a delicious breakfast in our lovely hotel. This time, I ordered the made to order omelette which was included in our free breakfast, it was tasty!
Right before noon, we checked out the hotel and waited at the entrance for our tour guide Duska whom I booked with Percy (firstname.lastname@example.org). She came on time and we started our half day tour from Cusco to Chinchero Weaving Center (along the way), Moray Inca Ruins, and Maras Salt Mines and then drop us off at our hotel in Urubamba. It was our first time going on a private tour since usually private tours are expensive but it was not the case this time! The private tour price was $100 USD for both of us including an English speaking tour guide (Duska) and a driver for around 6 hours!
Duska is very knowledgeable and pretty fluent in English, she’s also patient as we did took a lot of time taking photos 🙂
After around an hour of drive, we arrived at Chinchero Weaving Center; Chinchero (12,343 ft) is even at higher elevation than Cusco (11,152 ft)! On the entrance of the weaving center, I saw those exotic bright colored flowers hanging and Duska said those are Peru’s national flower: Cantua buxifolia. Blog reader Lyle pointed out it’s not the national flower as the real one has a bell shaped end!
Duska showed us the seeds of Peruvian crops like corns and different types of nuts:
Different varieties of Peruvian corns, some are huge!
We were greeted by a cup of mint tea to help with altitude sickness – I heard. The cup was cute!
I saw the cute guinea pigs that they are raising but sadly those are for food 🙁 Guinea pigs (cuy) are traditional Peruvian dishes served during festivals but now you can found in many restaurant menus.
The weaving center:
Duska explained how those common natural ingredients are used to dye the wool and the color combinations those could create. Salt, lime, corn for dying?
Some of the colors that those natural ingredients could create…I love the shades of pink!
Those white thing are Cochineal, parasites living on cactus that give the bright red pigment. Cochineal also use to make lipsticks because of its long lasting color.
One of the weaver gave us a tour of how they make the wool, dying it, and weaving it.
Spinning wool into yarn:
The bright red color from squashing the Cochineal and adding a drop of lime juice to make it orange-ish.
The process of dying wool using those natural ingredients:
Weaving wool using that tool, I forgot what it was but I think it was a bone or a horn.
After the short tour, we did some souvenir shopping there to support the locals. They don’t have baby alpaca products as baby alpaca wool are very expensive. Baby alpaca is a term for fine and soft alpaca wool found on different parts of the alpaca; not its age as in “baby” alpaca. Corrected by blog reader Lyle: “Baby alpaca actually comes from the first shearing of the alpaca and not from different parts of the alpaca, the first shearing happens when the alpaca is around 1 year old, all shearings after this are just considered regular alpaca. This is why it is so expensive as they only get one Shearing of baby alpaca from each animal and many shearings of regular alpaca over its lifetime.”
After the weaving center, it was another hour of drive to Moray Inca Ruins. On the way, the landscape was spectacular, I like the patches of bright red/orange soil field in contrast with the snow capped mountain peaks!
The 2nd half of the road is unpaved and it got very dusty when another car from the opposite direction passed by – we had to roll up our windows every time. There was no road signs once we branched off from the main highway, I wondered if there’s any GPS signal up here but I know there was no mobile signal (T-Mobile). We passed by many sheep:
The unpaved road winding up the mountain with no guard rail can only fit one car and thankfully not much car traffic! We finally arrived! Duska went in to help us purchase the boleto turístico ticket for 70 sols each, yes it was pricey since we only visit one attraction but it was well worth it for a unique site like this one! Hubby setting up his camera on that pole for a photo of us haha!
And the photo, the Toyota on the right was our car.
We walked out with Duska and the first sight of one of the Moray Inca Ruins! WOW WOW and WOW! It is still a mystery on how the Incans built this site and the purpose of it. The most likely theory is that it’s a greenhouse. On each “ring” the difference in elevation creates a temperature difference to grow different types of crops – “micro-climate”. Incans were a very intelligent civilization!
We walked down to go around the ruin, some sections were damaged by the high amount of rain the region received in 2010 and under repair:
Do you see the people on the top left corner, this gives you a perspective on how high the wall of each ring is!
Duska helped us to take a photo!
From there, we decided to walk back up and it was a bright choice as I was out of breathe on the way up!!! Another one of the ruins not far from the big one we saw:
Next stop: Salinas de Maras – Maras Salt Mines! The driver pulled over a look out for us to take photos! There, more than 3000 salt mines (ponds)! So amazing!
Hubby leaning toward to take a pic of the valley with the salt mines, on the background is the Sacred Valley where we’ll be staying for the next two nights.
Photo from hubby:
We followed Duska and walked down to the salt mines:
We passed by a few souvenir shops before arriving at the salt mines! They are privately owned by many families. Duska explained that the size of the ponds related to the size of the families; for example first started with a big pond and a family with two children will split into two ponds, one for each, whereas a family with four children will split into four ponds! And as years go by, they expanded and created more ponds to reach its over 3000 ponds today!
Corrected by blog read Lyle: “The salt mines (farms actually) are owned and controlled by a cooperative and any resident of the nearby town of Maras can farm a pond, they just have to request one and farm it in accordance with the cooperatives rules, but the people farming the ponds do not own them. One of these rules requires that the bulk of the salt be sold back to the cooperative, but the families are able to keep a portion for personal use, this is usually what you find them selling in the small stalls and can be regular salt, season salt, medicinal salt or bath salt. Sal de Maras is the official cooperative brand and they have a large store there, and they also export it all over the world.”
Too bad when we got there it was getting cloudy and late in the afternoon that the sun was blocked by the mountain on the left side. I recommend to visit the salt mines at noon or early afternoon for the best lighting! The sun light can bring out the colors of the salt mines, I had to use HDR to bring out the colors as it was a bit cloudy!
The story on how this place was created is amazing! It all happened because of this tiny stream:
Duska said the water on this stream flowing out from the mountain has high concentration of salt, even higher than ocean water so probably inside the mountain has a huge salt mine! After a minute or so my finger has a thin layer of salt! From that one small stream, they routed to all the 3000+ salt ponds. The owners came at night to open the opening of each pond so the stream can flow in to fill it and then they closed it. On average, it takes a month for the water to evaporate and the salt to crystallized. The first layer of salt is more grainy, the middle is finer and the bottom get mixed with other minerals for its different in colors.
The path is narrow and fun to walk on 🙂
This is the opening – very simple technique using a piece of cloth and a big rock on top to hold its place:
The stream network:
Isn’t it amazing?
I keep clicking my shuttle to make sure I didn’t miss any angle!
The edge of the pond become a thick layer of salt:
On the way out, I stopped by the souvenir shop and got a pack of garlic salt! They sell other flavors of salt too so makes a good souvenir!
From the salt mines, it was only half an hour drive down the mountain to our hotel Tambo del Inka in Urubamba (one of the largest city/town in the Sacred Valley). After visiting Moray Inca Ruins and Maras Salt Mines, I realized there are so much interesting places to visit in Peru in addition to the most famous Machu Picchu! Before, when I think of Peru only Machu Picchu comes to mind; I honestly didn’t know there are more Inca ruins and unique landscapes that are worth to visit! Those two totally surprised me. I need a trip to come back to visit more places!
The taxis in Urubamba are three wheel motorcycle and each decorated, aren’t they cute?
We arrived at our hotel and Percy was there to greet us! We told him that we really enjoyed our tour and tipped Duska and our driver; they were great! We sat down on the sofa and the check-in staff came to get our passports to prepare all the paperwork and got us a cup of cocoa tea….yes those were cocoa leaves, make sure you don’t need to take a drug test the next day or else will be positive haha!
Hubby was so tired LOL, it was only half a day 😛
We were upgraded to a suite again wohoo! Our suite on the 1st floor, our living room:
Walk in that door is our bedroom:
And a mini walk in closet:
The bathroom with another 4 bottles of water!
Welcome fruit plate, we were wondering what that pear looking fruit is as it is very hard skinned! Blog reader Lyle shared the name of this fruit is “Granadilla and is in the passion fruit family, very sweet and delicious.”
Hubby couldn’t wait to take a power nap!
Our outdoor seating area with a sunbed:
But it didn’t have a spectacular view though!
We walked out right away because we need to pick up our Machu Picchu train tickets in person at the train ticket office which is conveniently located in the hotel property. It was a 5 minutes walk.
The ticket office! Make sure you bring the exact credit card that you used to purchase the train ticket online and your passport with you. It must be the exact credit card! I bought three credit cards with me and I forgot which one so the lady had to tried one by one! Sorry!
On the walk back, more of the national flowers in different colors:
My favorite purple color!
We walked back to the hotel and went to the concierge to book the taxi to pick us up at the Ollantaytambo Train Station from our way back from Machu Picchu. Going there, we booked the train directly departing at our hotel train station but coming back we booked the train to Ollantaytambo instead. The reason is there’s only one train back to the hotel leaving Machu Picchu at 3 pm which will not be enough time for us while there are plenty of later trains to Ollantaytambo (around half 20 min drive from the hotel). I have been debating about this because many people advise us to just catch a taxi at the train station and will be cheaper, should be around 40 sols. After few thoughts, I think it’s more convenient to book from the hotel since we don’t speak any Spanish to haggle prices and the time we get back will be at night time so for our safety! It cost a whopping 90 sols but let me tell you it’s worth every penny of it, stay tuned for my next trip report on Machu Picchu to find out why!
The hotel lobby:
Very nicely and uniquely decorated:
I like those bird cage like hanging lights!
And the purplish color carpets and sofas!
Masks on the table, not as pretty as the ones we got from Venice though 🙂
Very beautiful and relax-feel lobby!
The hotel bar:
And the restaurant where we had dinner and breakfast:
They have outdoor seating too!
We had a wonderful dinner in the hotel restaurant. A local band was playing there too very relaxed Andean music as we were having our meal!
On the house starter some biscuit thing with mango and mousse:
The bread were a bit hard for me!
We ordered the scallops, they were so good!
Shrimp, calamari, and some kind of fish stuffed in yellow pepper with different sauces. We like the sauce with the shrimp, it tasted mango with some other flavor.
I ordered a Peruvian dish: duck with gravy sauce and rice cooked with beer. The duck was tasty but not as good as the duck breast I had in Avignon, France. I can’t take any alcohol but I took one bite of the rice and yes it contained beer!
Hubby ordered the guinea pig!!!! The skin was as crispy as Cantonese roasted pork but the meat was basically tasteless. The texture was like lean pork after boiled in soup for hours. You’ll need to dip it in sauce for some taste like pulled pork!
I forgot to mention, their chairs were the most comfortable restaurant chairs I ever sat on! So comfy that I could fall asleep on haha!
We slept early to make sure we get a good rest for our trip the next day: Machu Picchu!!! We definitely felt the differences in altitude in Urubamba than Cusco; it was so much easier to walk faster (my normal pace)! Stay tuned for my next trip report on Machu Picchu!