Peru – Cusco and Machu PicchuBack to Story

The land of the Incas

Our entrance into Peru was via Bolivia so we didn’t experience any of the altitude problems that some do from landing in Cusco.  I have heard of people having similar issues to my La Paz entrance to Cusco even in the much lower altitude of Cusco.  Our ticket from Lake Titicaca to Cusco was incorrectly typed out for us and we missed the flight.  A good learning lesson for double-checking yourself and also in arriving at the airports nice and early.  Flights seem to leave when full so be careful.

The only option was to negotiate a driver to take us over to Cusco. Bring out the Spanglish and find a local. While we had no idea where we stopped along way the scenery was truly spectacular array of mountains, rivers and interesting villages. We visited an incredible archaeological ruin that is featured in the gallery.

Cusco

Cusco is a highlight for anyone travelling in South America. As the traditional capital of the Incas it has a lot to offer.  The original structures (particularly those of worship) were pillaged and often destroyed by the conquering Spanish, which can’t help but give you a pang of loss. The large blocks of hand cut stone are remnants of this great civilisation and dot the landscape of the city. It is interesting but not altogether surprising to hear that the Incas conquered their predecessors in a similar violent and unforgiving fashion.

The streets are paved with some original pre-colonial stones and some blocks remain as foundations upon which the Spanish built their cathedrals.  There is something for everyone here – museums, great food, interesting buildings, shopping and lots of history.  It has some of the best shopping we saw in Peru so if you need some lama wool souvenirs stock up here.  It’s a shame to rush away so enjoy this town for at least a couple if days if you can.  Highlights are the Plaza de Armas,  Museo Inka, Museo de Arte Precolombino, and the San Blas District. In case you’ve saved all your Inca research until you get here, this is a great grounding for visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

It was while we were wandering the streets on San Blas that we met Inca Jesus.  His shop declares he is closed but he comes out to open the doors if he likes your aura.  He reads you aura and tells you a little about your life and troubles. He is an interesting man and amazingly intuitive although some are a little more skeptical of his powers.  He claims to be of Inca descent and has long flowing grey hair and hands you feel like curling up in. Go and decide for yourself, if he lets you in the door.

If you are feeling like savouring a local delicacy then try the Guinea Pig. It will be essential for you to ignore their cute little faces when you see them in the market or you could be tempted to try to free them from their barbequed fate.  Wash it down with some of the local Pisco Sour, which will numb most of your body and any of your regrets. Amazing cheesy bread is also served if you are not game enough to try the rodent.

Sacred Valley

To reach your inevitable destination of Machu Picchu, the drive through the Sacred Valley is definitely worth the time rather than jumping on the train.  There is a cheesy farm on the way where you can feed the lamas and see the farm to fabric process.  It’s a little (ok a lot) of a tourist trap but interesting and if it’s your only chance to get up close and personal with these amazing creatures it’s a great opportunity.  Less chance of getting spat on because they are more domesticated than your pet dog at home.

If markets are your thing, actually who am I kidding, even if they aren’t your thing, plan your trip around going to Pisac markets. They are open on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday and provide an interesting look at local craft, fresh produce and cooking techniques. There is an array of unique handicrafts and good quality silver jewellery that make excellent, good value gifts. Later we see a very authentic local market and I was pleased for a slightly sanitised version we’d experienced in Pisac.

The houses along the valley floor all have a terracotta statue of  a bull on the roof, which I found curious. I was informed that when building a house it serves as a housewarming present for the new owners. Some people must feel like they need more luck as they have two perched up there.

Weaving your way along the valley floor of this rich valley you will find Ollantaytambo.  This is the gateway to Machu Picchu.  It’s where the trail starts for the energetic and where the road ends and everyone else jumps on the train.  It’s steeped in history in its own right and the ruins are well worth looking around.  It’s here we learn about how smart the Incas were.  Houses are built on the side of the hills leaving the most fertile land for farming.  Water seems to flow uphill as they created irrigation schemes that are remarkable.  You can’t help but wonder if we’d all be that smart to work out such sophistication if they took the computers away.

The train trip through narrow gullies also makes you wonder what the Inca’s were doing up there.  There are many theories on this.  I am certainly no historian but the most popular is that it was a sacred place where learning was done.  Its no wonder it took the outside world so long to find the site and it really appeals to the romantic notion of a lost city.

You can pay a premium and stay on the site – right next to the gates.  However, forced by no availability we stayed in Aguas Calientas a surprisingly a nice enough town.  It has little charm or history but is nowhere near as bad as the guidebook prepared me for.

The highlight of the stay is here. Inka Terra is a stunning eco-hotel a short stroll from the train station.  They are very proud of their tropical gardens that boast an amazing range of orchids, humming birds, their own coffee plants and much more.  The décor is warm and the open fire very welcoming.  The Staff is excellent and as passionate about the ecology as claimed on the website.  A real treat and you will learn more than you bargained.

The hotel arranges a guide to join us at dawn for our trip up there.  I always think it’s hard to live up to hype and high expectations, it doesn’t matter if you’re one of the most revered tourist sites or the latest movie.  Everyone has the same idea about the dawn so get down to the queue half an hour before you think you need to.

However even among the hordes it’s a mystical place.  As the sun rises there is a mist on the mountains and a surreal quiet.  The location is what I found to be most inspiring.  There is a feel that you are floating in the mist on top of the world.  The silence was broken by a softly spoken guide who announces that above us is a Condor.  I look up to see this amazing bird just drifting above the ruins.  If they are indeed the spirit of the Inca reincarnated then perhaps he was just looking out for his sacred spot.  I hope he wasn’t horrified to see the busloads of tourists trampling through his home.

The village was built on the ridge of a steeply pitched mountain.  Clever terraces making the land productive and it was all irrigated.  Proving yet again how advanced the Incas were in their agriculture and engineering.  There are a couple of vantage points to look back on the ruins.  You can climb some of the steep nearby hills or take the winding trail up to the saddle that those who are doing the Inca trail come in on.  It’s nice to get an aerial perspective.

Travel photographs from Machu Picchi, Cusco, Inka Terra Hotel and the Sacred Valley. Includes iamges of the streets of Cusco and architecture.

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