What's a Trip to Peru Without Machu Picchu?

It's been one of my lifelong dreams to visit Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This past March, I finally got the opportunity to do just that, along with a million other amazing things in Peru.


What's a Trip to Peru Without Machu Picchu?

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 26, 2005

It is possible to visit Cusco and find plenty to do, but some of the best things in the Cusco area are outside the city. Book a tour to see the Sacred Valley, or be bold and hike the Inca Trail. Everything in Cusco is reasonably priced, so you'll get a lot of bang for your buck almost anywhere you go.${QuickSuggestions} Food and souvenirs are generally more expensive the closer you are to the Plaza de Armas. For cheaper items, visit the smaller, less-visited places on the streets outside the city center.

If you're planning to do any kind of rafting or other outdoor activity, it might be better to rent equipment rather than bring it. For instance, a day-long rental for sandals cost me $1. ${BestWay} Most of all the touristy stuff, including hotels, in Cusco is located around the Plaza de Armas. Therefore, if you're staying in Cusco, walking is the easiest way to get around. If you prefer to get around quickly, there are hundreds of tiny taxis buzzing around town. Negotiate a price and they'll take you to your destination in a harrowing taxi experience.

As for places outside of the city, there are plenty of tour packages available around the Plaza de Armas. Costs are very reasonable considering how long the tours are.

If you do not want to take a tour but wish to see sights outside of Cusco, there are local bus options and taxis available for hire. Always negotiate a price with the taxi driver before getting in the car.


Inca Trail and Machu Picchu


Inca Trail - Day 1

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

The first day on the Inca Trail began with an early wake-up call, something I would soon be getting used to. The tour company picked me up from my hotel at 5:45am, and then we drove 2 hours through the Sacred Valley. At Ollantaytambo, the chefs stock up on bread, and then it is another 45 minutes on dirt roads to Kilometer 82, the starting point for our trek. There, we stocked up on last-minute provisions, such as water, hiking sticks, and candy.

After checking in at the control gate, we crossed a shaky bridge across the Urubamba and were officially on the trail. Only after we crossed the bridge did our guide tell us that someone had fallen off the bridge a year ago and the body had never been found. From there, we began the hike up and down some rolling hills, stopped occasionally for our guide to explain to us the plants and creatures around us and how to properly chew cocoa leaves.

Along the way, you pass through some tiny villages with residents that use the trail every day. It's amazing, and it really makes you feel like you're in a whole new world. About halfway into the days hike, you will see Llactapata from a bluff overlooking the site. Please see my journal entry for Llactapata to learn more about it.

After this point, the trail turns away from the Urubamba and you begin to hike into the valleys and mountains surrounding the Urubamba. In the late afternoon, you reach the campsite for the night, the village of Huayllabamba. Here, you can buy food and drinks for the next day. According to the handwritten sign painted above the window opening where this food is sold, they accepted Visa and MasterCard here. But, looking around at where you are, I found that hard to believe.

Tired from the day of hiking, I was in bed around 8pm, ready for my 6am wake-up call from the roosters next to the campsite.

There are many tour companies around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that offer treks to Machu Picchu. With these companies, you can always walk up and make a reservation. However, you may need to wait a week before you can get a date you want. And, during peak season, it might even be a longer wait. Another option is to book online through a trekking company. I booked through Andean Life (www.andeanlife.com) 3 months in advance. Booking online may cost a bit more, but the experience may be better with a reputable company. Just because a company in Cusco has a cheaper price does not mean it is the best trekking company. If you would like to arrange a trip with my guide, please contact me and I will gladly give you his contact information.
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Llactapata (Inca Trail - Day 1)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

On the first day of hiking the Inca Trail, several hours after you begin hiking, you will come across a cliff on your right that overlooks the ancient Inca ruin of Llactapata, also known as Patallacta on some maps. Llactapata means "upper town" in Quechua and was first discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Our guide also told us the name of the town means "town around the mountain," or something similar, which makes sense since it was built around the base of the mountain. This was primarily an agricultural station used to supply Machu Picchu with maize, the staple crop of the Incas. The settlement was comprised of over 100 buildings, houses for the workers and soldiers, and several baths.
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Inca Trail - Day 2

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

At 6am, nature's alarm clock begins to ring - roosters. With that, I knew I was not in the comfort of my hotel anymore.

Soon after leaving the camp at Huayllabamba, you pass through a checkpoint. From there, every step is uphill for a good part of the day. Within a couple hours of hiking, you pass through a rain forest. It is not like the fake rain forests you see at zoos. Although rather small, it is still amazing. Around mid- to late morning, we stopped for some tea and snacks.

The trail snakes along the side of a mountain. Aside from spectacular views, you are overwhelmed with exhaustion. I was taking only about 10 steps before having to take a break for a few minutes. Reaching the peak, all the pain and exhaustion I felt from the climb up was gone. It felt amazing knowing I had made it to the top of this 4215m peak. With each hiker who made it, trekkers from other groups and myself gave them a round of applause.

Once our entire group and guide were at the peak, our guide explained to us that it was entirely downhill from that point. I usually walk/run much quicker going downhill, so I ended up getting very far ahead of my group on my way down. Eventually, I found myself at a point where I could see no one in front of me - and no one behind me. I felt like I was living during the Inca civilization. I looked around and saw nothing but the mountains, animals, streams, and waterfalls. This was the Inca Trail experience that I was looking for.

About one hour after leaving the peak, you reach the camp in the valley below around 3pm. Like the previous day, the porters and chefs were there waiting, and they gave me a round of applause as I reached camp. Now all I needed to do was relax and wait for the rest of my group to make it in. After they made it in, we had lunch, then napped until dinner.

There are many tour companies around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that offer treks to Machu Picchu. With these companies, you can always walk up and make a reservation. However, you may need to wait a week before you can get a date you want. And, during peak season, it might even be a longer wait. Another option is to book online through a trekking company. I booked through Andean Life (www.andeanlife.com) 3 months in advance. Booking online may cost a bit more, but the experience may be better with a reputable company. Just because a company in Cusco has a cheaper price does not mean it is the best trekking company. If you would like to arrange a trip with my guide, please contact me and I will gladly give you his contact information.
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Inca Trail - Day 3

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

With day two of the Inca Trail done, often regarded as the hardest day of the Inca Trail, you look forward to an "easy" day of hiking. The weather seemed a bit gloomy as we left camp, and we hoped it would not rain. The trail immediately climbs uphill from the camp, which simply sucks after day two, but you are rewarded within 30 minutes when you arrive at Runkurakay. This is a small structure believed to be a lookout tower or resting place. Some think it was used as a transfer point where messengers bringing information from one town to another would hand off the messages to rested messengers.

Soon you reach Sayaqmarka. The ruin was originally built by the Colla, the biggest enemy of the Incas before they became kings of the Peruvian highlands. After leaving Sayaqmarka, it began to rain, hard.

The rain continued as we ate lunch and after we left. The trail cuts through the ruin of Phuyupatamarka. Immediately after this ruin, the trail begins to descend down hundreds (if not thousands) of stone Inca steps. There are points where you cannot see the end of the stairs. It's almost frustrating, but more amazing than anything else. Along this portion of the trail, the trail crosses a stream (with no bridge), and then you will also go through a tunnel within 2 minutes of the stream.

Reaching the edge of the forest and the edge of a cliff, you find yourself looking out over the vast valley below. And, unfortunately, signs of modern civilization emerge: train whistles; power lines; and far below, metal rooftops to buildings. From here, the trail descends down a narrow, zigzagging path through some brush and small trees. Surprisingly, this led us to the camp much sooner than I expected.

Because of the rain, everything was soaked or damp. But that was okay. It was all part of the experience.

After-dinner time is spent giving porters their much-deserved tips (and, in our case, beer). Tips for porters should generally be 60 soles minimum. The chefs can be given more than that (e.g. 100 soles). And we gave our guide 120 soles.

There are many tour companies around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that offer treks to Machu Picchu. With these companies, you can always walk up and make a reservation. However, you may need to wait a week before you can get a date you want. And, during peak season, it might even be a longer wait. Another option is to book online through a trekking company. I booked through Andean Life (www.andeanlife.com) 3 months in advance. Booking online may cost a bit more, but the experience may be better with a reputable company. Just because a company in Cusco has a cheaper price does not mean it is the best trekking company. If you would like to arrange a trip with my guide, please contact me and I will gladly give you his contact information.
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Inca Trail - Day 4

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

On the final day of hiking the Inca Trail, it is hard to sleep. Waking up well before the sun rises at 3:45am, I packed my belongings, rolled up my sleeping bag, and gave the porters the gear you want them to carry for the last time. Then I gathered in the eating tent the last time with my group and guide and had the last hearty meal made by the amazing chefs in the magic tent.

By 5am, we are already hiking down through the campsites and back on the Inca Trail. Around 5:10am, we reached the control point and waited until 5:30am for it to open. Once open, they stamp your passport, check your ticket, and then you're off towards Machu Picchu.

Most of the trail winds along the side of a mountain, with spectacular views of the valley below covered in fog. About 5 minutes before I reached Intipunku, also known as the Gateway of the Sun, I come across some of the steepest steps you will find on the Inca Trail. At these steps, I heard rumors that the Gateway of the Sun is only 300m away.

Quickly hiking, I saw a stone structure ahead of me with a large number of trekkers already stopped. It HAD to be Machu Picchu. Finally, and then I turned a corner and saw the valley open up below me with Machu Picchu sitting on the top of the mountain below. I paused with everyone else, snapped pictures, and waited for the team to catch up.

With the team all together again, our guide told us to head towards Machu Picchu and meet at a large rock that used to be at a place of worship. On our hike there, the "lazy people" who took the train to Machu Picchu were walking in the opposite direction of us towards Intipunku. They smelled good, and we smelled bad.

In a few short minutes after that, you finally reach Machu Picchu and the guide takes the last group photo of everyone. It was hard to believe that the hike was over and we had made it.

There are many tour companies around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that offer treks to Machu Picchu. With these companies, you can always walk up and make a reservation. However, you may need to wait a week before you can get a date you want. And, during peak season, it might even be a longer wait. Another option is to book online through a trekking company. I booked through Andean Life (www.andeanlife.com) 3 months in advance. Booking online may cost a bit more, but the experience may be better with a reputable company. Just because a company in Cusco has a cheaper price does not mean it is the best trekking company. If you would like to arrange a trip with my guide, please contact me and I will gladly give you his contact information.
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Machu Picchu

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

To fully understand the history of Machu Picchu, you must hike the Inca Trail for 4 days. Of course, if hiking is not your thing, you can be a "lazy person" (as stated by my guide on the Inca Trail) and take the train/bus to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is best visited in the morning. If you're hiking to Machu Picchu, try to arrive at sunrise. Once you reach the ruins, either by hiking or by taking the bus from Aguas Calientes, the grounds are quiet and sparse, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy Machu Picchu without the busloads of tourists around. It's very peaceful and relaxing.

Everyone sees photos of Machu Picchu, but do many people really know what it is? Archeologists believe it was built in the mid- to late 1400s, and probably served as a royal estate and religious retreat of some sort. Most of the buildings are built with granite rock, perfectly cut and shaped to form tight bonds without using mortar. Methods on how the rocks were cut are disputed since several different methods can be used to cut the stones. It is believed that more than 1,200 people lived at Machu Picchu, and surprisingly, most of the remains found at the site were women. The Incas planted crops, such as potatoes and maize, at Machu Picchu using advanced terracing and irrigation methods to reduce erosion and increase the area available for cultivation. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu. Therefore, it remained hidden deep in the Andes for centuries, only to be discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.

One of the most important things found at Machu Picchu is the intihuatana, which means "hitching post of the sun." It is a large stone about the size of a Daewoo car. Towards the solstices of each year, the sun appears to move farther and farther away. Priests would hold ceremonies here and use the stone to "tie up" the sun to prevent it from disappearing. At each solstice, it would appear that the ritual would work because the sun would "come back." Because the Spaniards never reached Machu Picchu, this intihuatana is intact (although it was cracked by a beer company filming a commercial at Machu Picchu), unlike other ones destroyed by the Spanish at other Inca sites.

Guided tours last a few hours, then you will be given the option of exploring the ruins on your own. Take advantage of this time by hiking up Huayna Picchu or exploring the many small rooms and passageways of Machu Picchu.

The cost to enter Machu Picchu is approximately $20. Tickets can be bought at the front gate. If you hike in, your tour operator may buy them for you ahead of time. There is also another charge to ride the bus to/from Aguas Calientes. If you're on a tight budget, there is a trail to hike instead of taking the bus. There are also several trains to/from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. See www.perurail.com.
Machu Picchu Inca Archaeological Site
Above The Urubamba Valley
Cusco Region, Peru

Wayna Picchu/Huayna Picchu

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 26, 2005

In any typical picture of Machu Picchu, you will almost always see a large peak rising above it. Most probably don't know this name of this peak: Wayna Picchu, sometimes spelled Huayna Picchu. Some myths regarding Wayna Picchu believe this peak is the nose of an Andean face looking skyward, which marks the spot where Machu Picchu was to be built.

Wayna Picchu can also be climbed. On top of this very steep mountain are terraces and buildings overlooking Machu Picchu, including the Temple of the Moon. How any of these places were constructed is beyond me.

To hike Wayna Picchu, walk through Machu Picchu to the caretaker's hut. Here, you must sign in and sign out when you enter and exit the trail, respectively. From here, it's almost a near-vertical climb up the side of the mountain. For most, the climb can take 45 to 60 minutes. Being in a hurry, I climbed it in 25 minutes. Unlike the Inca Trail, there are many rope and wire railings for you to hold onto as you ascend and descend. Without them, climbing this would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Once you reach the terraces, it is a bit difficult to find the actual peak. Climbing through an extremely narrow tunnel, I found myself confronted with more steps to climb. Following these brought me to the peak, in which there are several large stones piled together, each stone about the size of a car. There are alternative paths to the peak. No matter how you reach the top, you will be rewarded with amazing views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding area.

Descending this climb is almost as dangerous as ascending. Take your time and be patient with the people around you.
Wayna Picchu/Huayna Picchu

Cusco


Sleeping in Cusco


Hostal Rumi Punku

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 26, 2005

On the very quiet street of Choquechaca, just a 5-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, you'll find Hostel de Rumi Punku. Constructed in the late 1990s, this is a very nice place to stay while in Cusco. What makes the place unique is that the entrance is an actual Inca entryway. Based on the type of construction of the doorway, the entryway is for a sacred place, and it is considered a historical monument in Cusco.

The rooms are small, but for $32/night (single occupancy) you cannot beat the price. My room had two twin beds, both very comfortable. The bathrooms (private, in your room) are very clean, with a nice sit-down toilet, shower, and complimentary soap and towels. If you do take a shower in the morning, it will either be boiling hot or freezing cold. Getting a perfect temperature is hard to do when other people in the hostel are showering too. Only on my last morning there, when I was showering at 4:30am, did I get a perfect shower... because no one else was awake.

Each morning there is a free continental breakfast. Orange juice, tea, coffee, and bread with marmalade jelly are what they have to offer. If you have a small stomach like me, it's plenty to satisfy you until lunch.

The hostel also offers a free safe deposit box in the office to store your valuables, and there is free luggage storage. The entrance and courtyard are secured by a locked front gate. To enter the hostel, ring the doorbell and the attendant on duty will buzz you in. The doorbell can be heard when you are in your room, but it rarely rings at night when you're trying to sleep. If you are flying into Cusco and you have reservations here, they will meet you at the airport and drive you here for free.

Literally just a few doors down from the hostel you can find laundry services, Internet cafés, and restaurants.

For more information, visit www.rumipunku.com.
Hostal Rumi Punku
Choquechaca No.339
Cusco, Peru
+51 (84) 221102

Casa de Campo Hostal

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 26, 2005

On the hills overlooking Cusco, in the neighborhood of San Blas, you will find the Casa de Campo Hostel. My first impression when walking through the giant stone entryway was that it felt like a castle of sorts. This feeling was helped along by the fact that I arrived at 9pm at night. After checking in, walking up the stairs to my room made it feel more like a giant tree fort. It's a very cute place with an extremely friendly staff.

If you're traveling alone, the rate is only $20/night. For couples, it is over $30/night. Still, despite the price, the views you will get from this place are amazing. All rooms overlook the city of Cusco below. Like most places, the rooms are very small but clean. My room had two twin beds, both which were very firm. But the thick down comforter made me forget all that. In your room you will find complimentary towels and soap, too. On the walls were molded lampshades made to look like flowers.

Every morning they offer complimentary continental breakfast. Orange juice, tea, coffee, bread with butter, and fruit salad (with yogurt and granola) are on the menu. The dining room offers spectacular views of Cusco below.

The one drawback of the hostel is that it is located in a somewhat remote part of town. The walk to Plaza de Armas from here takes about 15 minutes... maybe a little less. In addition, the street is VERY quiet and spooky at night. I was alone and felt a bit spooked. But, if you're with someone else, it may not be so bad. Also, during my stay at Casa de Campo, there was a big dogfight at 6:30am somewhere nearby. So, if you're a light sleeper, this might bother you.

If you really want a great view of the city when you're SHOWERING, ask for room no. 1. Giant windows in the shower stall overlook Cusco below. At first, I was a bit nervous about showering with such big windows, since there are homes above and behind you that have a direct view into the shower, but as soon as the shower is on, the windows steam up and no one can see you. However, when you use the toilet, people can still look in, so be careful.

For more information, visit www.hotelcasadecampo.com.
Casa de Campo Hostal
Tandapata 296 B
Cusco, Peru
00 51 84 24 3069


Eating in Cusco


Chez Maggy's

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

Before getting to Peru, several people had told me to try Peruvian pizza, and I had read about Chez Maggy's in my guidebook. So on day two in Cusco, I headed over to Procuradores (which is a street, but looks and feels more like an alley) and walked into Chez Maggy's for dinner. Sitting down, I immediately noticed I was the only one there. The waitress, after showing me to a table, immediately left the restaurant to hang out in the street/alley.

When she did come back, I ordered my pizza and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. Needless to say, the service was slow. Finally, I saw one of the guys working in the kitchen come in off the street with a pizza. I thought, "Is that my pizza?" Sure enough, it was. They must have cooked it elsewhere, and then brought it here. Why they didn't cook the pizza here was beyond me. The waitress came in off the street, brought me my pizza, and then went back outside.

The pizza itself was excellent. It had a thin, crispy crust. Aside from cheese, they add some herbs to it to give it a little pizzazz. I ordered a simple cheese pizza, but they had a large variety to choose from: Hawaiian pizza, meat lovers, and anything else you might expect to see in the States. Besides pizza, they also offer a variety of calzones and pasta dishes.

My experience only got worse when it came time to pay. I had ordered a cheese pizza for 11 soles and a lemonade for 2.50 soles, but they billed me 15.50 soles. I asked to see the menu, but they told me it was an old menu (with old prices). I didn't believe them and felt they were trying to take advantage of a solo tourist, so I left 15.50 and gave no tip. The service was not the greatest anyway.

Overall, the prices are cheap. A personal pizza, like mine, will only cost about $4. Drinks are $1 to $2. Then again, that is what I saw on the menu, which might differ from your actual bill.
Chezz Maggi La Antigua
Procuradores 365
Cusco, Peru
+51 84 23 4861

Paititi

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

The first order of business that everyone should do when visiting Peru is to sit down at a restaurant and order one of their most prized foods: guinea pig. Forget all of your worries about eating a family pet or anything like that. Guinea pig tastes just fine, like chicken, actually.

A place that specializes in guinea pig, among other Peruvian foods such as suckling pig, is Paititi. Located along the Plaza de Armas, Paititi is a very clean and beautiful restaurant. Some of the walls are real Inca walls and used to be part of an old Inca palace that once existed at the Plaza de Armas. One noticeable drawback, if it happens to be filled with patrons, is that the tables and chairs are very close together. On my visit, however, I was the only one in the place, so I was quite comfortable.

The menu prices are very affordable. Guinea pig costs 24 soles (approximately $8), and soda is 4 soles (approximately $1.35). All other menu items are approximately the same price, and a dinner for two will cost approximately 70 soles (approximately $24).

On my visit, the guinea pig I ate tasted fine. I had never had guinea pig before, so I could not tell you if it was good or bad, but it tasted fine and I ate the whole thing. I washed it down with some Inca Kola of course.

The wait staff at Paititi is excellent. Unlike many of the places I ate at in Cusco, the staff here was comprised of all men who looked to be in their 40s. After sitting down, they immediately bring you some garlic bread, followed by a small glass of warm, foamy Peruvian beer free of charge. Not a fan of strange, warm beers, I just looked at my beer and smelled it. The food was cooked and brought to my table slightly quicker than expected, though that may have been because I was the only one in the restaurant.

For traditional Peruvian food at very reasonable prices, I recommend Paititi to anyone. But don't go in if you're not going to eat guinea pig.
Paititi
Portal Carrizos 270
Cusco, Peru
+ 51 84 25 2686


Cusco City Tour


Puka Pukara

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

Driving along the road from Cusco towards Pisaq will bring you past an intriguing archaeological site approximately 4 to 5 miles from Cusco. Called Puka Pukara, the name actually means "red fortress" in the native Quechua language. It is within visual distance of Tambomachay, about 0.5 miles away, suggesting that it was some sort of lookout for Tambomachay.

Within Puka Pukara are various rooms, interior squares, baths, canals, and high towers. There are also stairs, canals carved in the stone, narrow passageways, and small terraces. Because of its layout, the existence of fountains and aqueducts, and its closeness to an ancient trail, Puka Pukara was likely a lodge offering shelter and food for Inca travellers.

The site can most likely be seen by taking one of the many Cusco city tours available through most hotels or tour companies in Cusco. Average price is $10, and they last approximately 4 hours. Hiring a taxi or hiking to it from Cusco are other options. Admission requires the Tourist Ticket, a $20 ticket to gain admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Puka Pukara
15 minutes outside Cusco towards Pisaq
Cusco, Peru

Tambomachay

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

On the same road from Cusco to Pisaq where you can find Puka Pukara lies Tambomachay. A small ruin with three fountains and a lookout tower, its name comes from tanpu, which means "lodge," and machay, which means "resting place." It is believed that it was a bathing place of sorts, although the three fountains suggest that it may have been something more sacred, such as a temple to worship water (the Andean people worshipped water).

The site can most likely be seen by taking one of the many Cusco city tours available through most hotels or tour companies in Cusco. Average price is $10, and they last approximately 4 hours. Hiring a taxi or hiking to it from Cusco are other options. Admission requires the Tourist Ticket, a $20 ticket to gain admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Tambomachay
7 kilómetros de Cusco
Cusco, Peru

Saqsaywaman

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

On a mountain overlooking modern-day Cusco is the large Inca ruin of Saqsaywaman, a Quechua word that comes from two words, one being saqsay, which means to be "fulfilled," Saqsaywaman then meaning "satisfied falcon." Saqsaywaman is thought to have been both a military fortress and a place of worship. It reportedly required 50 years to complete construction and was built during the reign of Inca Wayna Qhapaq. There are many descriptions of the richness of the decorations here and of the high quality of the objects that were maintained in the stockrooms, so it was surely more than just a military fortress, as some people claim.

There are various theories in regards to the three zigzagging walls. Because of their appearance, it is suggested that they are the teeth of the puma's head that Saqsaywaman represented. Other theorize that the three walls represent the three levels of the Inca Spiritual World: beginning from the bottom is the Ukju Pacha (underground stage), in the middle the Kay Pacha (surface stage), and at the top the Hanan Pacha (sky stage). As well, these three levels can be identified with three animals sacred to the Incas: the Amaru, or Mach'aqway (snake); the puma; and the kuntur (Andean condor). Still, others believe that the zigzag shape of the walls represent the Illapa god (thunder and lightning). Although it is not known for sure, it is possible that all these elements are embodied in the ruins of Saqsaywaman.

Today, only the remains of the three huge walls built for this fortress remain.

The site can most likely be seen by taking one of the many Cusco city tours available through most hotels or tour companies in Cusco. Average price is $10, and they last approximately 4 hours. Hiring a taxi or hiking to it from Cusco are other options. Admission requires the Tourist Ticket, a $20 ticket to gain admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Saqsaywaman
Outside Cusco
Cusco, Peru

Santo Domingo

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

The first Catholic order to arrive in Cusco was the Dominicans in 1538. Upon their arrival, they built Santo Domingo (in the 1600s), an important convent and church for the Catholics. It was built on top of the Inca's Koricancha, which means "field of gold," and was their temple of the sun. Koricancha was the most important Inca sanctuary where they stored mummies.

Inside, you can see the great contrast in Spanish architecture from the Inca architecture. Santo Domingo is very baroque, which means very boring in my mind. Inside are Inca ruins, well-known for their amazing masonry, that were revealed after gutting most of this convent. Before Santo Domingo was built, these Inca structures were covered with gold and filled with gold statues, but upon the arrival of the Spanish, this gold was removed, leaving just the stonework behind.

What I love about the Peruvians is that they take the buildings built by the Spanish, then use them to highlight their history before the Spanish arrived. Santo Domingo is filled with Inca tools and artifacts, and they gutted Santo Domingo so the Inca ruins hidden by the Spanish could be seen again.

The site can most likely be seen by taking one of the many Cusco city tours available through most hotels or tour companies in Cusco. Average price is $10, and they last approximately 4 hours. Hiring a taxi or hiking to it from Cusco are other options. Admission is 6 soles, approximately $2.
Koricancha-Temple of the Sun, Cathedral of Santo Domingo (Cusco Cathedral)
Plaza De Armas
Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armas

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

The main square and hot spot in Cusco is the Plaza de Armas. Built in 1535, the square has a rich history, evidence of which still remains with the numerous ancient buildings around it, such as the Cusco Cathedral and the bronze fountain in the center (built in 1651). The center of the plaza is loaded with benches. If you have downtime, take a seat and enjoy the sounds and people around you.

Being the central part of Cusco, it is no surprise that you can find almost anything here. Numerous restaurants circle the circle, though prices tend to be higher there because of the high number of tourists. In addition, a number of tour companies offering Inca Trail trips, rafting trips, Sacred Valley tours, bus tickets, and anything else can be bought here. The same crafts you can find in the market at Pisaq are also here, though prices will be higher and bartering is not widely accepted.

Around the plaza, you will see many children and adults either trying to sell you some small crafts (e.g. finger puppets, postcards, paintings, etc.) or simply begging for money. The beggars may appear poor, and you will feel sorry for them, but you will soon learn that these people are simply lazy and do not want to work for money.
Plaza de Armas

Cusco, Peru


Sacred Valley Tour


The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

As the name suggests, the Sacred Valley of the Incas was definitely a key area of their civilization. It is generally regarded as the area along the Vilcanota River between Pisaq and Ollantaytambo, surrounded by the Andes Mountains. There are a series of picturesque towns in the valley, some with beautiful colonial churches from when the Spanish settled in the valley. Many mountainsides are lined with terraces and other archaeological remains, as well as the most famous corn in the world. The corn is simply HUGE (about three times the size of corn grown in United States). Due to all of this and its exceptional climate, the Sacred Valley has become a beautiful area of Peru no one should miss.

Aside from the valley being impressive in terms of agriculture and location, it also contains a rich history. The ancient ruins of Pisaq and Ollantaytambo can be seen on many tours through the area, both of which were important strongholds for the Inca civilization. See my other entries for a description of these places.

The easiest way to tour the Sacred Valley is to join one of the many Sacred Valley tours offered by many hotels and tour companies in and around Cusco. Look around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for these operators. The average cost of these tours is $25, plus the $20 Tourist Ticket (a ticket for admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, including the Pisaq and Ollantaytambo historical sites). Most tour companies also include a buffet lunch with the tour. Tours last all day, departing Cusco around 9am and returning around 6pm.
Sacred Valley of the Incas
Valley In The Andes Of Peru
Cusco, Peru

Pisaq

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

Approximately 30 minutes or so outside of Cusco lies the town of Pisaq. On Sundays, the town is turned into a large market to serve both the locals and tourists. Almost any souvenir can be found here, and feel free to bargain with the vendor for the best price. Chances are you can buy souvenirs at the markets for up to 50% less than what you will pay in Cusco.

The modern day town of Pisaq lies at the bottom of a mountain along the Urubamba River. Looking above the city, you will notice dozens of terraces and ruins. This is the original city of Pisaq built during Inca times. The original town of Pisaq is considered as a typical Inca town, with several stages of a state-city and early privileged assimilation to the Inca Empire. The remains of the political, administrative, and religious structures are distributed on the slopes and peaks of the mountains on the right border of the Urubamba River. All these sections were joined with a net of pathways with stairs, tunnels, water springs, and waterways, complemented with a system of terraces and andenes for agricultural purposes.

The easiest way to get to Pisaq is to join one of the many Sacred Valley tours offered by many hotels and tour companies in and around Cusco. Look around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for these operators. The average cost of these tours is $25, plus the $20 Tourist Ticket (a ticket allowing admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, including the Pisaq historical site). Most tour companies also include a buffet lunch with the tour. Tours last all day, departing Cusco around 9am and returning around 6pm. Taxis can also be hired to reach Pisaq at a cost of 30 to 40 soles. Local buses are also an option at 5 soles each way.
Pisaq
Pisaq
Cusco, Peru

Ollantaytambo

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

Part of the Sacred Valley Tour offered throughout Cusco is a stop in the ancient Inca city of Ollantaytambo. On most tours, this is one of the last stops. It is built into a steep mountainside and was a strategic outpost for defense, as well as a religious center. Unlike many places, the town here has original Inca structures that are still lived in by people today. It is a great example of an Inca town still used today.

The history behind Ollantaytambo is quite amazing. After Manco Inca was defeated by the Spanish at Sacsayhuaman, he retreated to here. Hernando Pizarro (Francisco's brother) then came with an army to capture Manco Inca. The Inca's forces and neighboring jungle tribes attacked the Spanish troops and flooded the plains below Ollantaytambo to stop the Spanish advance. Hernando ordered a hasty retreat, though the victory was short-lived when the Spanish returned with four times their previous force. Manco Inca retreated to his jungle stronghold in Vilcabamba, and Ollantaytambo fell into the hands of the Spanish.

Ollantaytambo is made of enormous stepped terraces constructed of unbelievably huge stones. Believe me when I say my pictures do not do any justice. You'd be amazed at the number and size of rocks here. The rock quarry used to build much of the site was across the river valley on the opposite hillside. Workers moved stones used sloping planes, ramps, and rollers. The river was diverted around the rocks on the valley floor, easier than transporting the rocks across the river.

The easiest way to get to Ollantaytambo is to join one of the many Sacred Valley tours offered by many hotels and tour companies in and around Cusco. Look around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for these operators. The average cost of these tours is $25, plus the $20 Tourist Ticket (a ticket for admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, including Ollantaytambo). Most tour companies also include a buffet lunch with the tour. Tours last all day, departing Cusco around 9am and returning around 6pm.
Ollantaytambo
93 kilómetros al NE
Cusco, Peru
N/A

Chinchero

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

Chinchero was once the country estate of one of the last emperors. There was once a great Inca religious site, but the Spanish came in and built a church atop it. There is a steep walk through a narrow walkway to get to this church, with a market just before the entrance. The foundation is the original Inca stone foundation. The interior of the church has a glorious gold altar and beautiful frescoes painted by Cusquenian Indians. No pictures or video are allowed inside, hence the lack of photos of this. However, I did find a photo on this website.

In more recent history, Chinchero was home to the Shining Path terrorist group. It is slowly starting to lure tourists back, though there are no accommodations in the town. Therefore, you must stay in Cusco or elsewhere and find transportation in.

Although you feel like you're in the middle of a valley floor, surrounded by high peaks in the distance and thousands of acres of farmland, Chinchero is actually higher than Cusco (12,000 feet; some say it is 14,000 feet up, but I doubt that) and atop the mountains between the Sacred Valley and Cusco on a plateau. It stands too high for farmers to raise corn, lettuce, or fruits that grow in the valleys, but Chinchero is known as a prime growing area for potatoes and grains. Inca families honor the land and plant carefully laid-out fields that look like they are weaved together.

The easiest way to get to Chinchero is to join one of the many Sacred Valley tours offered by many hotels and tour companies in and around Cusco. Look around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for these operators. The average cost of these tours is $25, plus the $20 Tourist Ticket (a ticket for admittance to 16 historical sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, including Chinchero). Most tour companies also include a buffet lunch with the tour. Tours last all day, departing Cusco around 9am and returning around 6pm.
Chinchero
28 kilómetros Cusco
Cusco, Peru
N/A

Gringo Bill's Hotel

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 26, 2005

Aguas Calientes (or Machu Picchu Town) is loaded with wealthy tourists who take the train to town from Cusco. With this in mind, it is no surprise that many of the hotels and lodgings are a bit pricey. Luckily, there is one place in town suited for backpackers and those with a tight budget: Gringo Bill's. Yes, it is run by a white guy. And, yes, it is cheap, only $25/night during the off-season for a single occupancy room.

Located just off the main Plaza de Armas in Aguas Calientes, Gringo Bill's looks like a big tree house at the edge of the forest. Walking in the front door, you'll find yourself in the main lobby. You feel like you're inside, but if you look up, you'll find no ceiling. This, combined with the stone floor, trees, and fountain, almost makes you feel like you're in a rain forest. Well, that's how I felt. Aguas Calientes is not a big town, so getting anywhere in town from here is a breeze.

My room contained a full-size bed with very warm sheets and bedding, along with complimentary towels. To add to the charm of this place, there was a mural painted on the wall that looked like someone had broken the wall, and beyond the wall was a picturesque Peru setting.

After spending the previous 4 days walking the Inca Trail, the last thing I wanted to see were stairs, but the room has two sets of stairs (only 2 to 3 steps, though). One set goes up to a large closet to store your clothes and/or bags. The other leads to the bathroom. The bathroom is very clean, and the water is hot.

For more information, visit www.gringobills.com.
Gringo Bill's Hotel
Colla Raymi 104
Cusco, Peru
00 51 84 211046

Urubamba River Rafting

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 27, 2005

I wanted to make the most of my trip to Peru, and I felt it wouldn't be complete without a rafting trip on the Urubamba. Plenty of tour companies offer rafting trips, and you can easily walk in the day (or the day before) to book such a trip.

My company (Mayuc) drove us about 2 hours east-southeast of Cusco to their home base, Casa Cusi, which houses their campground, bathrooms, changing facilities, and even a sauna. Upon arrival, you are given your gear (wetsuit, helmet, wind jacket, and life preserver), and then split up into groups depending on what type of trip you signed up for. I signed up for the class 3-4 rapids, which meant we would drive for another 15 minutes upstream to our launching point.

At the launch point, they give you a brief lesson on the commands used during the trip, and then you launch into the water. The first 10 minutes are spent practicing the commands, but then the next 2 hours are just action-packed, adrenaline-pumping rafting.

Class 3-4 rapids are pretty intense. They can easily throw you from your boat if you're not secured in it. At several points during the trip, the boat would head straight into raging water, and all you could see was a wall of water in front of you. At points you'd be going backwards, sideways, or even down (the back of the boat would raise up off the water). Nonetheless, it was a heck of a lot of fun combined with beautiful scenery. At all points during the trip, you can look up and see the Andes looming above your head.

The Urubamba has taken many lives, which the rafting guide will tell you after each of the treacherous rapids you pass through. On this stretch of the Urubamba, our guide told of us no fewer than five deaths had occurred within the past few years. If your guide is as cool as ours, he may let you jump out of the boat so you can ride the rapids. The river's current is powerful, and it can propel you just as fast as the boat goes. I would have done it, but the water temperature was less than 40°F.

After you return to Casa Cusi, sit in the sauna, and change, they give you a very hearty meal of tea, fruit, soap, and salad. Believe me, it is very filling. After lunch, you get back in the van for the 2-hour ride back to Cusco.

If you have the time, energy, and interest, I highly recommend booking a river rafting trip on the Urubamba.
Urubamba River Rafting
Urubamba River
Cusco, Peru

Aguas Calientes - aka Machu Picchu Town

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fallschirmhosen on April 26, 2005

The closest town to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes, soon to be renamed Machu Picchu Town. The town is named after the hot springs located 10 minutes away. For a small fee, you can soak in the hot springs, though it can be rather nasty when there are dozens of tourists there, some even bathing themselves. The town is mainly a pit stop for people going to Machu Picchu. Most tourists just briefly pass through when they go to/from the ruins. Some come a day before they visit Machu Picchu and stay in one of the expensive hotels in town for the night. Others, like me, rest here for a day after hiking the Inca Trail, before heading back to Cusco.

The railroad runs straight through the main drag of the town. When arriving from Cusco, the train drops passengers off directly in front of shops and souvenir vendors, so be prepared to be hassled by locals to buy Kodak film or a T-shirt that says "Machu Picchu" on it. After the train station, the tracks continue through town, where they are lined by dozens of restaurants and Internet cafés.

Just north of the main drag and railroad tracks is a rather large market. Like any market in a tourist spot in Peru, you'll find the same things you can find in Cusco, Pisaq, or any place in between. However, expect to pay more here. Everything in Aguas Calientes is more expensive than elsewhere. At the train station, I found a snickers bar for almost $2.

From the main square, Plaza de Armas, you can also find lots of small tourist shops and restaurants. The prices at any of these places are very close to American prices, so don't expect to find anything cheap like in Cusco.

If markets are not your thing, try hiking up Puticusi Mountain. Walk along the railroad tracks towards Machu Picchu, away from town, and within 5 minutes you'll come across an entrance to the trail. On my visit, I had so badly wanted to hike this, but it was raining. My guide from the Inca Trail said not to hike it in the rain, because there are wooden ladders that become very slick when wet. So hike it at your own risk. If you do hike it, I hear you will get spectacular views of Machu Picchu.

Overall, Aguas Calientes is a colorful and unique town. Unless you plan to spend 2 days at Machu Picchu, staying here for more than a day is not necessary. There is only so much of the markets and 14.4kbps modems at the Internet cafés you can handle.

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j42375-Cusco-Whats_a_Trip_to_Peru_Without_Machu_Picchu.html

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