I decided to use my last day to visit Pisac, a short 30-minute taxi from Cusco. Rising early, I was the first person to arrive at the ruins high above the town, and had a blissful 45 minutes of waking alone among the stone walls and turrets, set on a rocky promontory with stunning views down to the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba below. The evidence suggests that Pisac was one of the few Incan fortresses with multiple primary functions, including agricultural, military, and religious. As the sun broke through the clouds, I hiked steeply downhill to the town of Pisac itself, and spent several fun hours haggling with local merchants for gifts of jewelry and alpaca clothing, and enjoying the people-watching of locals buying and selling fruits, vegetables and meats at the locals’ market adjoining the tourist craft market. Yes it was “touristy,” but no more so, and probably less, than many other market hotspots around the world.
On my last evening in Peru, I sat at the bar at Cicciolina and enjoyed a truly sumptuous feast. Several glasses of Argentine malbec perfectly complemented the onion soup, Peruvian potato gnocchi (so soft it melted in my mouth) and osso bucco with pumpkin ravioli. Through the pleasant haze of wine and too much food, I realized that Peru had become the sort of place where one can have the best of both worlds – incredible off-the-beaten path experiences with real authenticity, alongside stylish luxury and great food at a level at or above the best standards in the world. Peru has always been known for adventure, and more recently for its cuisine as well, but now it seems it’s put together the total package — adventure without the compromise.