The best tour guide to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

Gabriella (Gaby) Menesis is quite simply the best tour guide to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not someone you book at the entrance to Machu Picchu. You know the type – always wearing a clever hat, spouting off pre-rehearsed corny lines designed to get a laugh. In fact, calling Gaby a tour guide is like calling Picasso a house painter. She’s this beautiful, wildly intelligent and eternally creative Peruvian who spent years exploring the ancient cultures of her homeland.  Don’t bother trying to find her website or looking her up in Trip Advisor. Gaby has designed a  successful business built completely on word of mouth through friends of friends. After spending four mystical days exploring the area with her, I consider her a very meaningful  friend.

You’ll want to book Gaby well in advance and she will meet you at the Cusco airport (with a driver) and custom curate the most magical adventure for you.

I’d dreamed of going to Machu Picchu since I wrote one of those reports in 5th grade on the Incas. Remember  pre-computer age elementary school reports? The ones where you gathered intel from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, carefully cut photos out from National Geographic and Elmer’s glued it all onto colored construction paper all held together by a little brass grommet?  From the age of 12, Machu Picchu was at the top of my bucket list adventures. I wanted to delve deeply into the art, the spirituality, and the ingenuity of the Incas.

Getting acclimated to the high altitude of Cusco is no easy feat and some are more adaptable than others. Gaby met us at the airport with her secret cocktail of coca leaves and the stern recommendation to drink massive amounts of water and avoid alcohol.  With only four full days in the Sacred Valley, we put consumption of Pisco Sours (Peru’s national drink) on hold. The coca leaves by the way are not cocaine (they are one ingredients used to make cocaine) and they are available at most hotels and sold on the street. Lest you think I went to Peru to ingest nefarious substances! (I do, however,  have a friend who takes small groups to Peru for Ayahuasca trips, but will leave her name out of this post for all the obvious reasons).

Our first stop with Gaby were the Pisac Ruins.  I think the word “ruins” is such an unfair way to describe Pisac. To me Pisac is alive and teaming with energy. We hiked a long flat trail to get to this extraordinary fortress perched on a mountain top. Gaby suggested we start our journey with a small ceremony to honor Pachamama. (My burgeoning adoration of Gaby was cemented in that moment.)  Pachamama is more or less “earth mother” to the Incas. Actually, that doesn’t do her justice, Pachamama is more all-encompassing in that she is both Mother Earth and this benevolent force who has the power to both sustain life on Earth and take it away. I loved the idea of a ceremony to honor her and to also let her guide us on our journey into this most spiritual land.

We laid down coca leaves on a sacred blanket, held hands and asked Pachamama for permission to visit and honored her grace. I know I’ve never had a tour guide who created the magical space for this kind of experience. You?

Pisac is considered the gateway to the Sacred Valley and a perfect place to start your voyage to Machu Picchu.

Standing in awe of these incredible curved stone steps leading up a mountain in a circular motion, I wondered what the word Pisac stood for. Gaby explained that deriving the meaning of many Incan words is challenging, since they did not have a written language as we know it. They instead used a method of tied knots and rope called the Quipu. Today, the Quipu are referred to as our earliest computer and data systems.Unfortunately, much of that material and history keeping was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors.  Some historians suggest the word Pisac is derived from the word Partridge and indeed if you look at an aerial view of the larger Pisac community, it looks surprisingly like the outline of an Andean partridge.

There’s also a terrific market in Pisac with your traditional assortment of touristic products. I’m told Sunday is the best day to go for artisan finds. The hubs and I aren’t devoted travel shoppers so we really just took in the color and flavor of the market place.

There’s so much to share about my travels with the best tour guide ever to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, you’ll have to check out my other blogs posts on where to stay and visiting Machu Picchu proper.

If you want to reach out to Gaby, email me or you can find her on Facebook here.

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