Most tourists to Peru fly into Lima, head to Cusco to “do” Machu Picchu, then leave the same way they came. It’s sad, especially because those places that are heavily touristed are changing rapidly under the weight of so many visitors. In addition, the prices for popular destinations seem to be rising by the day, perhaps because since it’s their reason for being in Peru, people continue to pay whatever the price is. Meanwhile, lesser-known, similar attractions charge one-tenth of the price and offer a more authentic experience. Not to mention the fact that most of the money tourists are paying to travel to and see Machu Picchu doesn’t stay in the country, or at least doesn’t get to the locals.
However, some locals are setting up alternatives to the beaten trail, such as the Jopez Marcovillaca family in Urquillos, a small town in the Sacred Valley near Cusco. We stumbled across them last weekend while trekking through the Sacred Valley with our friend Renzo. He pulled out his catchphrase “I know someone in this town,” and we stopped for a drink in a small shop which seemed at first glance to be just like other small shops. But the proprietress, Zoraida, remembered Renzo from the last time he’d visited, and started telling us about the history of the area and her family’s new enterprise, in between feeding us potatoes and chicha and letting us try out a local medicine.
Hidden in the Sacred Valley
It was a pity that we’d discovered this little gem so late in our time in Cusco, because we really liked the sound of what they had to offer. For 50 soles (around US$17.50) you can spend a night and two days in the middle of the Sacred Valley, with a guided trek each day – one in each direction. One heads to a waterfall, and the other (longer) goes to a lagoon. Plus there’s a mirador (lookout) nearby so you can take in the views.
Pasajero or visitante?
What’s really special, though, is the attitude of the family. They’re really enthusiastic about hosting “visitantes” (visitors) – they regard the package-tour tourists as just “pasajeros” (passengers) who only see Peru from the windows of their tour bus. There are only eight beds (in three rooms) so it’s never going to be overrun with tourists, and meals are taken outside in one of two gazebos which were built by Zoraida and Uriel’s father. In the evening, visitors can either relax or join in with the cooking and enjoy the cultural interchange. It’s easy to get there, just catch a bus from Cusco to Pisac and another to Urquillos.
Peru has a lot more to offer than just the one big attraction. Make sure you relax and soak in the atmosphere … and if you’re in Cusco to see Machu Picchu anyway, the Sacred Valley is just on your doorstep.