Cuzco and the Sacred Valley
Alvaro took pride in showing us the sights in his hometown of Cuzco, and the villages along the sacred valley of the Urubamba River.
First of all, you must know that the valley of the Urubamba is beautiful. When you first drive down from Cusco into it, you see green cultivated land on all sides, with terraces dating to the Inca times climbing the sides of the mountains. If you've just flown over rank after rank of the brown altiplano of the Andes, you're particularly struck with how different this is.
The plan that OAT sticks to, which lands you in Cusco but immediately takes you down a couple of thousand feet to the Valley, is a good one to get you gradually acclimated to the altitude. We were plied with coca tea from the minute we arrived in Cusco - a quick stop at the hotel we'd later return to - and then taken down the valley gradually. We stopped at a llama/alpaca farm and got our first taste of the beautifully woven woolens. We stopped at an overlook and took our first pictures of women and kids in Inca costume, shyly - this time! - accepting our soles for posing for pictures. We visited the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and later the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. We went to craft shops and sweater factories, we went white-water rafting, visited a school, and participated in a moving curandero ceremony.
Skeptic that I am, I was wary of the "experiences" promised for the group tour. But they were great! I enjoyed them and wouldn't have been able to have them on my own. All in all, we had a broad and enjoyable introduction to the entire area.