Some friends and I will be in Cusco early in July and prior to heading out to Aguas Calientes, we'd like to get some white water rafting in. Would any of you know of a rafting company that does 2 day tours (hopefully by Ollantaytambo) in the Urubamba, with some class 4s? I definitely would not raft class 5s with them (inexperienced), but they're somewhat fit fellows.
Also, aside from the Plaza De Armas and the standard tourist stuff, what would you say is the one thing that is an absolute can't miss in Cusco? Is there, for example a place where you can volunteer to contribute something other than dollars to the locals? I hear there are quite a few kids hawking kitsch when they should be in school.
Anyway, thanks in advance for the advice, let me know if you want to meet up for beers.
I do not believe that there is any one thing or place that is an absolute can’t miss in Cusco, unless it would be Machu Picchu (and that’s not in Cusco). It is all good. I like to explore the narrow pedestrian streets between the Plaza de Armas and Sacsayhuaman, and I particularly like to meet the mamitas who come into Cusco from the surrounding pueblos to sell their wares. Visiting these pueblos on market day (feria) is a good way to explore the region and meet the people.
After exploring Cusco and the surrounding area, it’s good to descend into the Urubamba River Valley (El Valle Sagrado). There are many communities and Inca ruins worth exploring in this area, and you will be over half-way to Machu Picchu when you get to Ollantaytambo.
If you have the time and ganas, trekking to Machu Picchu is probably the single best can’t miss thing to do. Along those lines, trekking the Salkantay Trail (trail head in Mollepata) that crosses Chiriaska Pass to hook-up with the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (hook-up at Wayllabamba) is a definite can’t miss event.
If you’re going to be in the Cusco area in mid-July (specifically July 15 – 17), there is an outstanding 3-day fiesta in the village of Paucartambo, northeast of Cusco (Fiesta de la Mamacha Carmen). Take a sleeping bag if you go, as lodging is hard to come by and it can get cold at night.
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