Many people get tunnel vision when traveling to Peru and only want to see the magnificent Machu Picchu. So while I knew that I had to visit the World Heritage Site, I wanted to do an all-encompassing trip, seeing other sides to the country as well.
During my two weeks, I walked through the busy streets of Lima, stayed in an eco-lodge along the Amazon River, befriended a cute monkey that tried to pickpocket me, and listened to stories of Ayahuasca use – a traditional spiritual medicine used by locals and tourists alike – in Cuzco.
But my favourite town off the beaten path was Patacancha. Only a two-hour train ride from Machu Picchu, the town is a perfect location for a day trip. This is not to be missed.
Authenticity underpins the whole of Patacancha – the small and quaint village is the exact opposite of the hectic streets of Cuzco. You’re not going to hear the busy noise of taxis going by or see hordes of people walking past in a hurry; instead you will feel an overwhelming sense of calmness. You’ll view life as it happens: from local children going to school dressed in their traditional red clothing and bowl shaped hats, to a group of piglets nursing on their mother. The community was not on the sidewalks posing with tourists or trying to sell trinkets, but laughing and enjoying life as it comes. For culture lovers, spending time in this town will add plenty to your adventure in Peru.
You’ll have a very interesting experience because the locals speak no English or Spanish (so if you want to visit Peru to brush up on your language skills, this place may not be for you). The people of Patacancha are part of the Quechua community, a collective term for indigenous people in South America. They speak Quechua, which is spoken today in Peru by approximately less than a quarter of the population.
While not impossible, life will be much easier if you book a tour guide to overcome the language barrier and get around.
You’ll get to see the community at work too. I learned that many locals make their money from alpaca herding, weaving and selling their garments, and working along the Inca trail with trekkers. I was fortunate enough to have booked a weaving lesson with a group of local weavers, through a Peruvian NGO called Awamaki. They had a discount for travellers under 25, so I paid 130 PEN (£32/$40/€38) which included transportation, a local tour guide and translator, a weaving lesson and lunch.
I was able to see the step-by-step process of alpaca fur becoming weaving material. I then got to sit with a local named Victoria as she taught me how to weave. It was dope being able to get a hands-on experience of daily work for people in the community. But don’t be fooled, while I was able to take away a memorable experience of joy and laughter, it was hard work!
For all of my foodies, there’s a part of the experience for you too. The lunch included in the tour was prepared by a local in their home. The first dish I had was called Torrejas, a green fluffy pancake loaded with eggs, vegetables and greens. They were so good I had three! Next, I was given a warm and delicious quinoa soup with organic potatoes.
The dishes were not loaded with meat, so if you’re a vegetarian you’ll have no problem getting stuffed. It was a nice chance to get a peek of what a typical meal was for locals.
My adventures in Peru would not have been as personal if I hadn’t ventured off from the typical Machu Picchu itinerary. Even with the language barrier, I felt such a strong connection with the Quechua people. It’s special moments like these that make you realise that we really aren’t that different from one another. When visiting Peru, you may want to experience the food, the beautiful scenery, but the most rewarding experience is the connection with the people.
Have you visited Patacancha before? How did you find it?