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Touching the Sky

My travels to Peru and trek up Machu Picchu

By Emily Marie ConcannonPublished about a month ago 6 min read
Top Story - May 2024
I never felt more free than when I realized I had reached the peaks of Machu Picchu.

Back in 2020 (yes, THAT 2020), I took my very first steps towards becoming an international traveler. I was 25 years old, and up to this point, the furthest I'd ever traveled alone from my home state of New Jersey without my family was to West Virginia.

I was finishing up my Bachelor's Degree in international policy and law and had very itchy feet. I felt that a trip overseas would be the perfect opportunity to flex my muscles and see if my aspirations to become a member of the PeaceCorps would be the right choice for me.

So, I decided to join a short-term study abroad program with an organization known as The Green Program (TGP). It would be a short trip, just shy of two weeks, that began on January 2nd and ended on January 11th.

While I'm a nomadic person at heart, I'm also a homebody who loves my country, my state, and my family back in New Jersey. So, I felt the short time frame would be the perfect opportunity to dip my feet in international travel without getting overwhelmed or homesick.

So, I started working on getting my passport and arranging my trip. On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, I remember I started to get cold feet.

What if something goes wrong? What if my flight gets canceled? What if I lose my phone? What if I fall into the Amazon River and get eaten by piranhas?

Despite my fears and the encouragement from loved ones to stay home, early January 2nd, I made my trip to Newark International Airport. I'd flown out from Newark several times before in the past while I lived in West Virginia, but this time felt totally different.

This time, I'd be boarding my flight and would not see the ground again for another 8 hours. And, pretty much as soon as I landed in Lima, Peru, I'd be taking off again to fly to Cusco.

Flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

Let me tell you, my flight to and from Peru was a bit of a nightmare. It was no one's fault, not even the airlines, but there came a time when myself and several of the young people I was traveling with thought we'd never get out of the airport.

You see, my flight to Lima was fine and uneventful (shoutout to United Airlines). I had a long layover between flights of around 6 hours. I landed around 1 am and my next flight took off at around 7 am take me to Cusco. So, I just hung out in the Lima airport. I remember trying to order an iced coffee from a coffee shop and getting a very confused look from the barista (this was before I realized adding ice to hot drinks is a very uniquely American phenomenon).

I spent the layover relaxing and preparing for my next flight. I got onto a small plane around 7:30 am. I was exhausted since I hadn't slept at all, so I pretty much fell asleep right away. I have no memory of this, but according to the two college kids I was traveling with, we hit some terrible turbulence.

They said that the overhead bins opened and knocked some stuff onto the floor of the plane and it felt like they were on a rollercoaster. I thank God every day that I was not awake for that because I probably would've had a panic attack, and no joke. I HATE flying, and I HATE airplanes.

So, I woke up to find that we'd safely landed back in Lima. I felt a little annoyed, but oh well, it happens. I gathered my luggage and waited for them to reassign me to a new flight.

I swear, we took off and landed back in Lima three times. The one college kid said as we disembarked for the third time back in Lima, "I'm beginning to think that Peru is just one giant airport."

Not going to lie, that cheered me up a little.

So, we waited in line to be reassigned a new flight. To my horror, the guy printed me a boarding pass and said, "You should run. It leaves in seven minutes." I just stared at him, jaw agape, and looked at my boarding pass. Yep. He was right.

I grabbed my luggage and ran through the airport and TSA. I made it to the gate with three minutes to spare. I was sweating profusely and I am shocked I didn't get pulled aside for special questioning.

But at long last, I was on the plane and flying to Cusco. This time, I got off the plane and was welcomed to the gorgeous city that touches the clouds: Cusco.

Finally, landing safely in Cusco. Here's my view of the airport.

Unfortunately, we were behind schedule due to all the issues getting to the city, so pretty much immediately after landing, we were swept away to Universidad de San Ignacio for our immersion into Peruvian culture.

It was amazing, with dancing and music from local tribes. But I was so exhausted I felt like I would faint. But once I was able to get back to our hotel and rest, I felt like I could fully appreciate the vibrance and beauty of the nation before me.

Universidad de San Ignacio, Cusco.

One of my first photos of Avenida del Sol (Avenue of the Sun).

The following days were a bit easier to enjoy.

We spent most mornings studying at the local college, largely under the direction of a brilliant professor named Oscar. The theme of our trip was to better understand water systems and water sustainability, which means we also had the opportunity to visit local water sanitation centers and water power plants (I'll elaborate!).

But first, I have to give you a quick tour of Cusco. There are several delicious restaurants near the Xima Hotel on the Avenida El Sol (The Avenue of the Sun). My favorite spot to eat was at the Andean Grill. They have both meat-based and vegetarian dishes to enjoy, and personally, I felt the vibrant colors of the building complimented the flavorful and delicious dishes they served.

View of the restaurant (apologies for the water bottles).

I was still a bit tired, but so happy to try traditional Peruvian food.

The food is not just delicious, it's also beautiful!

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite things to do in a new place is visit coffee shops. As I'm making my way through Colombia, I'm trying all the coffee I can! When I rode my bike up and down my home state of New Jersey, I bought myself coffee. It's how I get to know the area and get a taste of the local cuisine.

I'm a coffee savant.

My favorite coffee shop was Cafe D'Wasi.

The coffee was decadent, chocolatey, nutty, rich, and locally sourced right there in the Andean mountains of Peru.


If you visit Cusco, you must try this coffee.

Look at that artwork! Coffee art.

The heart was cute, but this guy made a Picasso in my cup!

I remember when the barista handed me this lovely painted coffee with a little coffee umbrella. It made my day, and I could tell he was proud of it. I'm glad I can finally share the image with the world.

While I could go on and on about the beauty of Cusco, let's move on to the main event: the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Welcome to the home of Machu Picchu!

We stayed two days in a charming little town in the Sacred Valley.

The Sacred Valley was one of my favorite parts of our trip. I remember staying in this little town (image above). While here, I was befriended by a friendly stray dog who jogged with me every day. I felt like he was my guardian angel, so I bought him some treats.

I remember stopping at a little tienda (convenience store) and a young girl asked me (in Spanish): "Como te llama?"

To my surprise, I understood! "What's your name?" she asked me. "Mi nombre es Emily." I told her.

"Donde eres?" she asked, "Where are you from?"

"Los Estados Unidos," I told her. "The United States."

"Guau!" she said, "Wow!"

After a minute, as I was paying, she asked me, "Cuantos anos?" Which means, "How old are you?"

"Viente y cinco," I said with a smile.

"Guau!" again she said.

I gave her an American dollar and a quarter as a gift. She'd never seen this before and thought it was so cool and thanked me. You may gaze in awe at the ancient structures of a nation, but it's the people who make the biggest impressions.

The following days we explored the Amazon River and a Peruvian water power plant. We went ziplining over the Andean Mountains. And, we explored the Incan ruins and Machu Picchu. Pictures say more than I can, so please enjoy the following images.

Imagine viewing the world through an ancient window.

Machu Picchu structures.
Machu Picchu ruins.
Tiered gardens built by the Inca.
In the clouds!
Above the clouds.
Machu Picchu.

Look at that wall.


Words can't grasp just how these structures take your breath away. But my favorite part was our last project. Visiting a local farm and helping them build a well for water. I remember the men saying (in Spanish): "The Irish girl is built like an ox! Look at her go!"

We helped build this! :)

I love farming.

Local farmers

Little villages.
Pache Mama.

Madre Tierra.

Mother Earth.

Honor the Earth and your Homeland.

I was deeply touched by how much these people loved their land. And they often asked us, "Why don't you feel a deep bond with the land where you were born? It is your mother. Lover her."

I went home loving my America more.

Walk the path of the ancients. They walked with the gods.

south americafemale travel

About the Creator

Emily Marie Concannon

I am a world nomad with a passion for vegan food, history, coffee, and equality.

You can find my first novel on Kindle Vella here: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B09V4S7T4N :) I appreciate all your support and engagement! :)

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Comments (16)

  • Esala Gunathilake24 days ago

    Congratulations on your top story.

  • Anna 29 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story! :)

  • Lamar Wiggins29 days ago

    I'm so jealous! I would love to go there one day! It's nice to know that you made it happen! Excellent trip and story, Emily!

  • Caroline Janeabout a month ago

    Wonderful! This brings back so many memories. My husband and I visited Peru and completed the Inca trail.to Machu Pichu in 2006. Stunning.

  • Thank you for taking us with you on this journey, and for the amazing pictures

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    Great piece! Went to Peru for my honeymoon and hiked the Inca trail. Epic. Your article brought back many happy memories.

  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    What an amazing trip!

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    Ah, I have been myself, a beautiful place indeed!

  • angela hepworthabout a month ago

    Fascinating adventure!! It looks amazing!

  • Kayleigh Fraser ✨about a month ago

    This is somewhere I have not yet traveled to… Thank you for taking me there! Beautiful photos and travel story, I really enjoyed reading this 🙏 Ps. Please don’t ever cut or dye your beautiful hair! ☺️

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a month ago

    That Peruvian food looks my mouthwatering and beautiful ancient scenery

  • Babs Iversonabout a month ago

    Loved your adventure!!! Fabulously written!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Mark Gagnonabout a month ago

    South America is one of the four continents I still have left to visit. Looking at your pictures, Peru might be a great place to start.

  • Guau! This sounds like fantastic travels and learning. Picture perfect beauty.

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    Beautiful piece and the pictures are incredible. Well done.

Emily Marie ConcannonWritten by Emily Marie Concannon

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