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Joining a Traditional Peruvian Pachamama Meal during a Machu Picchu Trip

[Images of people shown in this post were taken with enthusiastic consent and appropriate compensation. read more about why consent in travel blogging matters.]

Far more memorable than my ascent to Machu Picchu or even my homestay on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, was my opportunity to eat a Pachamama meal in Ollaytaytambo, Peru.

I’ve previously written about how enamored I was by the village of Ollaytaytambo (click here to read more about my stay in Ollaytaytambo). Unlike Machu Picchu, which is entirely in ruin, Ollaytaytambo is an Incan village that is living. A series of terrorist Incan homes, streets, and aquifers that never fell out of use, in Ollaytaytambo new homes extend up from the foundations set by Incan masons, and the mountainside creeks still bubble down the terraced village through Incan-built open aquifers running in the street.

Close-up of a man placing rocks onto a meal cooked in the ground.

It was there that I paused for a few days during my Machu Picchu trip. Exhausted by the overhyped march to the Machu Picchu mecca of Peruvian tourism, I decided to spend a few days in Ollaytaytambo to explore and enjoy this village at a slower pace, while giving my body a rest, and enjoying some of my favorite travel hobbies.

It was there, while looking for fun things to do to fill my time, that I found an opportunity to join a local family or a traditional meal called a Pachamama. At that time, I didn’t know much about the Pachamama meal or tradition, but I knew that it sounded more meaningful than many of the activities available near Machu Picchu. Joining a family for a traditional meal in Peru is a variation of something I do often while solo traveling – as finding ways to share meals with others can be a helpful way to beat loneliness while traveling solo long-term.

My host for the Pachamama meal met me in the town square in Ollaytaytambo. After a brief tour of the village in which I learned more about the city and the ways the town is adapting to modern life while remaining true to its literal Incan foundations, we walked along Incan irrigation channels for about a half-mile out to the farm where the Pachamama meal would be prepared.

Upon my arrival, the pit – in which a Pachamama meal is prepared, was already dug and hot stones were prepared and ready to cook the food.

A man works to care for an underground oven under a yellow awning with a backdrop of peruvian mountains.

What is a Pachamama meal

A Pachamama meal is a traditional meal prepared in an oven buried in the earth. Pachamama – which is also an earth goddess in Incan culture- gives its namesake to this meal based on the cooking method.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Peruvian culture or Peruvian food, but they can provide a brief description and a link where you can learn more about this meal from an authoritative’s inclusive source.

Pachamanca is a big communal meal cooked in a pit and includes a wide array of smoke perfumed meats like pork, chicken, lamb, beef and goat.  It also contains ingredients like sweet potatoes, habas (green Lima beans), cassava, yucca ears of corns, chili, and more.

Amigo Foods
A plate of traditional peruvian meal called a pachamama, containing several kinds of potatoes, chicken, corn, beef ribs, and beans.

Shortly after my and other guest’s arrival to the home where the Pachamama meal would be hosted, the underground oven was uncovered and the process of loading and layering the Pachamama meal into the preheated oven began. I watched as my host layered potatoes, hot rocks, chicken, beef ribs, and vegetables.

In between each layer were massive amounts of Peruvian herbs that only grow in the unique climate and elevation of the foothills of the Andes mountain range. After loading the food, herbs, and hot rocks back into the underground Pachamama oven, the oven was covered with a wet tarp that then had dirt shoveled on top of it to keep the heat in the ground. As we told stories and drank chicha morada, a Peruvian drink made from purple corn and pineapples, the food cooked away in the underground oven with the herbs and wet canvas creating steam to keep the entire meal moist while cooking.

A man covers an underground oven for cooking.

After about an hour or an hour and a half, the entire process was repeated in reverse, first with the dirt being removed from the Pachamama oven, then the wet (and now very hot canvas being pulled back, and layers of rocks, herbs, and now succulent we cooked meats and vegetables were pulled from the underground oven. There, in the shadow of the Andes Mountains with literal ruins within view in the hills above Ollaytaytambo, I enjoyed a Pachamama meal with my Peruvian hosts.

A man spreading grass over the top of an underground oven to create steam.

Final Thoughts on Pachamama and Airbnb Experiences

Although I’ve done about a dozen Airbnb experiences in 10 different countries, my Pachamama meal in Ollaytaytambo, Peru was my favorite Airbnb experience by far. Enjoying this traditional meal helped to make my Machu Picchu trek more authentic. While much of the area surrounding Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Aguascalientes can feel like over touristed hype rather than an authentic cultural experience, this shared meal offered an alternative. The food, the people, and the shared meal helped shape Ollaytaytambo and the experiences I had there into a far more significant travel experience than my actual ascent to Machu Picchu.

A man places chicken breasts into an oven that have been marinated in a mixture of andean herbs.