Sure, the famous citadel on a mountain is worth seeing sometime in your life and Cusco is a great city that still feels special despite the hordes of tourists. To really get how great Peru is though, you have to take some time to explore and soak it all in.
A couple months ago I interviewed a guy who owns a tour company that does a lot of trips in Peru. He said people call them up all the time wanting to do a four- or five-day tour of Peru including Cusco and Machu Picchu. “I can’t book that trip for you,” he tells them. “If you don’t have at least a week you shouldn’t come.”
This is my fourth time in the country and each time I end up filling multiple memory cards with amazing photos of fantastic landscapes. It’s easier to just let some of those from the past two days—just the first two days of a Lares region hiking trip—speak for me. None of these have been enhanced, filtered, or manipulated. They’re just resized to reduce the file size.
These shots are just from two hikes on two days, plus one stop at a set of ruins where we never saw another tourist. There’s a huge contrast between the packed famous sites everyone visits and the places they fly past in a tour bus or on the train, never stopping to smell the lupins. Even when we finished our hike at Pisac, the fact we were there at a time of the day past when the day-trippers could make it back to Cusco meant we had the place almost completely to ourselves.
As for the little towns we’ve stopped in and the villages we’ve passed through, we felt like we were walking through our own little part of the world. It’s not that it is undiscovered, but that there are so many terrific places to explore just in the Sacred Valley region that you are the only non-farmer on the mountain.
Yes, it’s worth going on the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. I’ve done both over the years and have treasured memories and a collection of great photos from them. But they’re just the beginning of what’s available in just this one patch of the Andes in Peru. Come to Cusco yes. See the famous wonder, yes. But slow down and see more. You’ll be very glad you did.