Besides using Cusco as a hub for all things Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, there are other activities to do in and around town and still have a good time!
Besides running into people who will always know your name one of the highest rated (and rightly so) activities is the ChocoMuseum. The Irish couple on my tour had done this before the hike and shared their chocolate with the group one night and I loved it! I completely forgot about it once back in Cusco and after running around town on my one free day, trying to find a rafting operator that wasn’t trying to scam me and spoke English (not the easiest on a Sunday) I was wondering back to my hostel and I looked up in the square and saw the ChocoMuseo sign and the taste from the road immediately came back to me. My timing was perfect and after having a very quick look around the gallery, I joined the chocolate making workshop that was about to begin. There were two sets of partners and me. The Peruvians (I think, they were from Latin/South America, but spoke English), only the guy participated and the girl watched, tasted and took pictures and the Australian couple split their tour. Pretty much anyone can listen in (sort of, the kitchen is separate from the rest of the museum and café) but at the end when we made our own chocolate, they only give you a certain amount and the Australians split their allotment (though they did give them a bit extra anyway, very nice!). The workshop was given in English and fantastic. You got to taste the beans in different forms (coffee, tea leaves, paste and then chocolate) as the workshop proceeded and was very interactive as well. And then of course, the making of the chocolate is the best! I made little squares with all different fillings, trying to use and create the most uncommon ones. Of course, I made tons of chocolate filled with coca, as it’s illegal in the US (PS: No issue getting it back in the US) and they gave us little bags with cacao shells to make tea (once again, no issue getting it back in the US, even though it’s not “factory sealed”. Fingers weren’t crossed too tightly for the Australians though, as we all know how tight their MAF is) which I gave to my mom and she loved it, as it was a bit bitter for my taste.
The whole museum, café and workshop was fantastic. Everything is in English (and Spanish) and everyone who works there spoke English too. The museum is free and very professionally done and I highly recommend just taking a walk around. But of course, I do highly recommend the workshop too. It was s/75.00 when I did it which equaled about US$25 and totally worth it in my book. Peru is a once in a life time country and I wasn’t about to scrimp on something I really wanted to do over $25. Totally worth it!
When I was arranging my timing for Peru, I gave myself the last day of the tour to essentially be a rest day, though I did want to find a rafting company to join for the following day. I like to give myself a little flexibility when I travel and since I knew the competition was fierce for business, I thought I could get a better deal on the ground. I didn’t even realize it, but my one free day was a Sunday, when half of the shops are closed, even the touristy ones. So it was a bit harder then I had hoped to find a tour that wasn’t trying to gouge me (I knew approximately what I wanted to spend) and spoke English. I finally found a shop (Liz’s Explorer in Cusco) who booked me on a tour for the following day with Mayuc, one of the reputable operators in town. Little did I know at the time, but essentially all the store fronts sell tours for only a few companies and they sell them for whatever price they want, probably pay Mayuc a flat fee and pocket the rest of themselves, so try to bargain if you can. I am a horrible bargainer, so when I found a fare price, I just left it at that.
I love rafting and the trip was just okay. It was an over an hour bus ride to base camp where we got ready in our rafting gear before getting back on the bus to the raft landing. The larger group split up, into Spanish and English speakers to make it easier on everyone and it was just me and a grandmother and granddaughter, who was around 13 years old, both from New York. And Jewish. I just had to say that because I am to, it was something we had in common besides our Americaness, even though there is a difference between New York and California Jews, since my mom is from New York, I know the culture. Anyway, we got on the river quickly, named our raft “Hurricane” because Hurricane Irene had just reeked havoc on the East Coast that week (even though none of us were there) and paddled off. The scenery was really lovely and I loved hearing about the agriculture and history of the area. But the water level was very low and at one point we actually had to get out of the raft and walk on the rocks instead of paddle down a very low point of the river. That would be my biggest complaint. I had never done that before and the rocks were really slippery. It was not fun. The water was FREEZING and every time we went over rapids, I had to remember to close my mouth TIGHT as to not accidentally drink the water. The trip went on for close to 2 hours and we landed back at base to change our clothes for lunch. Lunch was really good, don’t really remember what we had, maybe chicken? But it was good and filling. Then we got to ride the zipline, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid at camp. This one went over the river twice and I screamed bloody murder when I was pushed down. It was really freakin’ scary! I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would. Then we got in the bus and headed back into town. Nothing to do with this trip, but I just have to mention my outfit after I changed after rafting. Teva sandals, shorts from my zip-off pants, Jansport backpack and my UMass sweatshirt. I looked like such a tourist, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and ran back to my hostel before a local could rob me.
Speaking of getting robbed, look out for it. I don’t know if it is because I grew up in LA and New York and just have this mentality that everyone is out to get me and therefore I always keep a very close eye on my bags and purse (though my sister was pick pocked in Rome and she is pretty aware. Anyway). For the most part, I didn’t walk alone at night (unless I walked fast and knew were I was going) and always carried my bag close to me and on the inside of the sidewalk. But the day the tour officially ended, a bunch of us found out that one of the girls on the tour had her purse snatched from her by a passing car when she was walking back from a bar. Of all the people on the tour, she definitely was the one most likely to be robbed and though she did a lot of things right (big group being the big one) she was on the outside of the sidewalk, it was like 4am and she was probably a little drunk. She apparently held on and got dragged before letting go and loosing it. Thankfully, the biggest thing they got was probably just a little money and her camera (no passport or ID), but it was still a wake up call for me. It happens.
Moral: Rafting was a bit of a bust, especially since I put so much energy into it. Maybe with a big group of friends it would be better or a different time of year with more water, but I was kind of disappointed in it. Glad I went, but would maybe think twice about recommending it. I would highly recommend EVERYONE stop by the ChocoMuseo though. It was such a surprise, I loved it. I think I like things that are a surprise like that too. A must do!