Peru: My dish on Ollayntantambo, Maras salt mines, and a Pachamanca feast!

Well hello there again!

I have been MIA for quite some time. A lot has happened in my life since my last post about Hawaii in April 2018. Right before my trip to Peru, my dad passed away. It was very sudden and very heartbreaking. I considered not going on the trip because I wasn’t sure how I would handle it but in the end decided to go to lift my spirits (as travel always does) and because it is the last thing I have ever done that my dad knew about. My dad is the biggest reason I have been able to travel so much over the years and I owe a lot of my cultural experiences and sense of adventure to him. I knew he would want me to go and enjoy it.

With that being said, this trip to Peru has been in the works for a little over a year. It started with me mentioning the notion to my boyfriend Kevin’s mother Norma about how much I would love to experience the country with their family (she is a native Peruvian from Lima). After that was retaliated with much enthusiasm it was full gear coordination mode and reaching out to a travel agency to set up our itinerary.

It is recommended if not CRITICAL that you book a trip to Peru through an agency. This is because of how spread out everything is, what types of needs you will have (specifically if you are coming from North America and are not accustomed to the altitude) and also for safety.

We used Quechua Treks to plan our trip and as a collective group we have nothing but amazing things to say.

But now I will get into the juice regarding my favorite activities, food and thoughts on Cuzco. We were there for a 14 day whirlwind and it was very exhausting but also completely wonderful and I learned so much! So again to avoid writing a novel about every thing I did and saw I will highlight my favorites starting with the town of Ollayntantambo and our hike in Yucay.

*I will also note here that my trip had too many things I wanted to discuss and show so there is a second part of this post focused on the city of Cuzco and Machu Picchu and another post solely focused on Lima.


A restaurant in Ollayntantambo selling Cuy (guinea pig) a national dish. 

Ollayntantambo is a small mountain town in Cuzco and flush with tourists since it has a direct train to Machu Picchu. The town revolves around one square that is dotted with shops and small eateries and it feels relatively safe and is quite charming. We stayed at El Albergue which was directly across from the train station. It was very rustic and had its own restaurant and small cocktail bar (pisco sour, anyone?). The food was so FRESH and excellent (but more on this later).

Ollayntantambo is a good place to get souvenirs because they have some unique tapestries and other hand made goods that are cheaper than in Lima or larger towns  around Cuzco like Aguas Calientes and are guaranteed to be authentic. I got a beautiful hand-made hot pink tapestry telling an old Peruvian folk tale for under 100 dollars and didn’t see anything like it anywhere else.

Restaurant-wise we ate our breakfasts and dinner at the hotel and one night we dined at Chuncho which is in the heart of the square. Let it be known that I had no idea Peru had such a wide variety of potatoes and corn! Each potato has its own distinct flavor and texture as well! Chuncho had delicious cocktails and farm to table dishes like the spicy chicken stew we ordered. Also- Kevin tried Cuy and hated it. (He said it was too fussy with the tiny bones and it had a greasy, gamey taste).

Hike in Yucay:

Yucay (as our guide, Zac said) is an overlooked activity in Cuzco. We did a walking tour of a trail following a wide channel stream that trickles down from Mt. San Juan. It was a beautiful day for the hike and we were the only people out and about on the trail (the benefits of it being overlooked) and all I can say is WOW!

It was extremely serene and relaxing (also challenging and dusty (BUT DO IT ANYWAY). We also made a doggy friend who followed us back down the mountain and who shared our lunch with us.

*Side note: the amount of stray dogs in Peru (specifically Cuzco) is astronomical and I was beside myself each time I saw one. If only I could leave the United States behind and start a dog resort in Cuzco!

Maras Moray Mountain Biking:

I have one word to sum up mountain biking: In insanely high altitude. Literally closer to the sun. That word is WATER. Say it with me. WAHHHTERRRR.

My aunt calls me an aquarium because I could probably slam a few fish bowls of the stuff over a light lunch that only lasts an hour. I am no weakling when it comes to how much H2O I can chug at all hours of the day. The reason I am making such a fuss about this is because I was doing my usual fish-bowl ingesting during our mountain bike exploration and it STILL wasn’t enough. I felt overheated and sick after 20 minutes of biking. The sights were gorgeous and it was worth the views but the terrain was rough, the road was dusty, and the air was dry (and devoid of oxygen a.k.a high altitude).

To sum this up: if you are a biking enthusiast who is okay with not breathing or at least feeling very out of shape- go to Maras Moray to mountain bike. But for the rest of us mere mortals, I would recommend staying on the bus.

Vilcanota Mountain Range: Chicon and the Pumahuanca

Our Pachamanca meal at the El Albergue hotel in Ollantaytambo:

I am now going to circle back to our hotel, El Albergue. The hotel is a rustic treasure nestled in the heart of an organic farm growing vegetables, farming llamas, and guinea pigs and even has its own distillery, all encompassed by gorgeous mountain views. All of our meals (and cocktails) were farm to table deliciousness.

view from our room at the El Albergue
Pisco sour (a Peruvian classic) at the El Albergue cocktail lounge

Cuisine-wise my ultimate highlight was the pachamanca feast that was made personally for us and presented by the Albergue chef himself.

What is a pachamanca you may ask? Listen well because this style of Peruvian cooking will change your life… and it should be a new mini-mission of yours to have at some point.

Pachamanca (meaning “earth oven”)  is a traditional Incan meal that is seared on hot stones underground. The stones are layered on top to create a steam that slow cooks the meat. It is similar to the kalua Polynesian pig roasting style typical for a luau. Our lunch consisted of chicken, pork, and lamb with andean potatoes and camote, organic vegetables, chicha morada (which is a purple corn sweet beverage) and house salad. The meat, vegetables and spices are covered with the stones and a tarp is laid over top and then buried with dirt to create mouth-watering smoke perfumed meat that falls off the bone in juicy tenderness.

Below shows some samples of the process…

Once this meal was graciously served to us, we were able to hear more about the history of the farm and the traditions that they have in place to ensure authenticity and exciting flavor in their dishes.

Andean potatoes
An assortment of lamb, chicken and pork
Fresh salad from the garden
Sweet corn cake and cafe for dessert
Our group with the chef
El Albergue organic farm 

After a delicious meal we headed over to a Cañazo (sugar cane liquor) distillery and coffee roasting facility located on the property.

The distillery was very impressive given the fact that they are constantly experimenting with different flavors and textures. They also produce an assortment of spirits such as rum, gin and vodka using Cañazo. These spirits can be found around Peru but I don’t believe they can be found in North America or the majority of South America.

Selection of artisanal spirits 

Maras Salt Mines:

Let me start by saying I have seen pictures of the salt mines on social media for a while now and originally, this was the site that I was most excited about going to. Most of the images I saw showed people walking around within the mines and I was so excited to see the squares of salt up close…

Our tour guide informed us that just this spring they had restricted people from walking within the mines because they were damaging them. I was SO disappointed I could only see them from afar and also… PEOPLE SUCK. Why can’t you just go and appreciate natural beauty without defiling it?!?! Anyways, rant over.

The salt mines aesthetically did not disappoint. But other than taking in the views there isn’t much else to do in this location. There are little market stands aligning the path down to the views of the mine selling the regular tourist garb, though.

Worker at the Maras salt mine

And that concludes one of THREE blog posts I have about Peru. My other blogs focus JUST on Lima and the city of Cuzco and Machu Picchu (including the Inca Trail)

Go check them out!