Feed Your Soul

Feed Your Soul 2

Three days of wellness in Cusco, Peru.

By Raquel Baldelomar

Everywhere you go in Peru, the past meets the present. It is a country with an incredibly rich archaeological, historical and cultural past that is currently thriving today in its own right. Nowhere is that melding of ancient Andean culture and modern entrepreneurial spirit more vibrant than Cusco, the ancient capital of the mighty Incan Empire.

For entrepreneurs, business leaders and executives who are constantly challenged to be innovative and creative on cue, a visit to Cusco is a powerful opportunity to recharge. Many people head straight to Lima and Machu Picchu, but Cusco is a hidden gem filled with sources of creative inspiration for entrepreneurs. Not only is Cusco the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city, but it’s also the gateway to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca citadel and one of the seven wonders of the world.

When you travel not to “check off bucket list items” but to ingratiate yourself in a new culture, learn new things, stimulate your creativity, and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul, your inspiration will thrive as a natural result. Cusco offers a variety of opportunities that make it easy and fun to do so. Below you’ll find a three-day itinerary focused on how you can make the most of your time in Cusco.

Day 1: Adjust to the altitude with a relaxing day

Even the most seasoned traveler can find it difficult to adjust to the altitude when first arriving in Peru. After all, Cusco is situated high in the Andes more than 11,000 feet above sea level. The JW Marriott El Convento Cusco helps guests seamlessly recover with a complimentary in-room oxygen tank, so you can feel refreshed and alert enough to fully enjoy the scope of what Cusco has to offer. You don’t have to go far, however: The five-star hotel, which is housed in a 16th century convert, offers a glimpse of the rich history and culture within its own four walls. Guests are welcomed by a tribute to the Inca god of sun, an indoor museum, ancient Andean-inspired spa, and an archeological exhibition with artifacts that date back to pre-Inca times.

Feed Your Soul 1After settling in, venture the cobblestone streets of the Historic Center of the City of Cusco and Plaza de Armas, both located nearby the hotel. The Plaza de Armas is considered the center of life in Cusco and a melting pot of culture. The collision of Inca roots and colonial Spanish influences is visible everywhere from the architecture to the cuisine, and visitors from all over the globe mingle with locals in traditional Quechua clothing. Witnessing this medley of cultures can remind business leaders of the power of fostering a diverse, collaborative environment back home. When you’re open to new perspectives and insight from those with life experiences different from your own, you gain solutions that you would never have considered on your own.

To top off the day, try dinner at Morena Peruvian Kitchen. This modern restaurant serves flavorful, delicious Peruvian classics, such as lomo de saltado. This popular fusion dish mixes Peruvian ingredients with Chinese-stir fry, served with French fries and rice – and is a tasty reminder of the magic that stems from cross-cultural connections. Combining concepts that may seem unrelated is an essential part of the creative-thinking process that allows you to come up with brand-new ideas.

Day 2: Soak up inspiring natural scenery with a private tour

The scenery surrounding Cusco is more than just beautiful; each mountaintop and citadel has a fascinating history that is even more impressive when you consider that it was built without cement or modern tools. As Steve Jobs once said, the key to creativity is to expose yourself to “the best things that humans have done and then to bring those things into what you are doing.”

The Sacred Valley will stimulate your creativity just as much as Machu Picchu, with the added advantage of thinner crowds and more breathing room for you to take it all in. The 70-mile strip of land in the Andes, which runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu, is best explored on an intimate private tour, and can be organized on foot or by car. Having a knowledgeable guide gives you meaningful context to all the sights and structures so you can truly soak up the culture around you. There are plenty of sites that display just how much the Incas accomplished with limited resources. Pisaq, a vast mountaintop complex of ancient buildings, colossal terraces, and an archeological site, is home to some of the best-preserved ruins. The Incan fortress of Ollantaytambo becomes even more impressive up close. As you ascend the stairs, you have to marvel at the fact that the terraces are much taller and wider than the average human.

The village of Moray is also one of the most fascinating testaments of the before-their-time innovation displayed by the Incas, who constructed an “agricultural lab” using stepped terraces to test the effects of different altitudes on different crops. The result resembles an ancient Greek amphitheater. Witnessing how the Incas explored different ways of growing food is an important reminder that experimentation is an essential part of the creative process. You can also marvel at the Maras salt mines, thousands of shimmering shallow pools that are still harvested by locals today. It is believed that the Incas meticulously dug the salt ponds into the steep mountainside with manpower alone, capitalizing on the natural springs and intense sunlight to produce pink Andean table salt.

Feed Your Soul 3After a day of exploration, treat yourself to a meal at MIL Centro, located at the top of Moray. The innovative restaurant will awaken your appetite and imagination, with stunning views of the terraced Inca ruins and a creative menu inspired by the altitude at which ingredients can grow—no easy feat at over 11,000 feet above sea level! Everything on the eight-course menu is local, from the water collected from Andean snowmelt, to the Maras pink salt sourced from nearby ancient terraces.

Day 3: Stimulate your creativity by seeing how other cultures eat

Lima isn't the only culinary star of Peru; Cusco has much to offer to food lovers, too, that can offer surprising lessons for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Often, the best inspiration comes from sources outside your industry or normal routine. And while travel is often focused on visual stimulation and soaking up new views, dedicating a day to engaging all five of your senses is a powerful way to enhance the cultural immersion and make the experience more memorable.

At the JW Marriott Cusco, inquire about setting up a tour of the San Pedro Market with their executive chef. The bustling, open-air market, which is just a short walk from the main town square, is a vibrant taste of the local culture that rewards visitors with mouth-watering aromas, sights of colorful indigenous wear and friendly alpacas, and the sounds of the flute and Peruvian chatter. One favorite street snack is choclo con queso, a giant ear of corn with the largest kernel in the world (grown only in the Sacred Valley) which is topped off with fresh slices of cheese. There’s also no shortage of organic, fresh fruit smoothies to keep you hydrated. Once you awaken your appetite to Peru’s flavorful offerings, you might be inspired to bring back local ingredients to jazz up your favorite meals back home. After all, staying creative and inventive in our personal lives is essential to generating original ideas at work, too.

The San Pedro Market is also the ideal environment to strike up conversations, ask questions, and learn from the people around you. You never know where these organic conversations will lead you—connecting with those outside your normal circles is a great way to spark your next big idea. And after satisfying your appetite at the market, take a stroll to digest through Cusco’s cobblestone streets. You’ll be inspired by how the old meets the new, a powerful reminder that there’s always a fresh spin or take on an old idea. Keep an eye out for the Cathedral with the Temple of the Sun (Koricancha), found inside the church of Santo Domingo. The monastery and church was built on top of the original shrine that was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. The beautiful site is a testament to the fact that failure can be a powerful foundation for a new beginning.

The cultural diversity of Cusco makes it an ideal backdrop to recharge and get the creative juices flowing. After three days, you will no doubt feel inspired with new ideas and connections to share with your colleagues back home. Plus, taking the time to witness the remarkable innovation, persistence, and creativity of the Incas in a harsh mountain climate is a powerful reminder that you too can face even the toughest challenge with a dose of imagination and grit. All of these experiences offer opportunities for busy American executives to take a step back and gain perspective from an ancient culture that is far different from their own.

Raquel Baldelomar an entrepreneur, author, and health & wellness journalist. She is Founder of Quaintise, a national marketing and branding agency for the health and wellness industry. She cowrote the book Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage and Reclaim Good Health. She is a Forbes columnist where she reports on corporate wellness, executive health, and the creative process and is also a journalist for CNN and Robb Report focusing on how health, wellness, and travel stimulate the creative process.

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