Machu Picchu - Heaven on Earth?

A brief summary of my trip to Machu Picchu during my time travelling through Peru. Words cannot describe its beauty, though!


Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Shady Ady on December 16, 2006

To say this hostel is good, is a big understatement, and I can say fully that it deserves its position of third-best Latin American hostel as awarded by Hostelworld.com. Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta is a charming family-owned hostel and, after 8 years, is well established in Cusco. Found in the old and safe neighborhood of Tahuantinsuyo, it is a 10-minute walk to the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Cusco, and all amenities, including restaurants, banks, museums, and shops. As soon as you walk in, you can feel the quiet, comfortable, and relaxed atmosphere and are made to feel extremely welcome by the friendly staff, who are more interested in giving you a cup of coca leaf tea to help with altitude sickness than making sure they have your room payment.

Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta is different from most hostels, as there are no dormitories here. Instead, the 10 rooms offer a selection of single, double, twin, triple, and quadruple rooms to choose from. Prices start at $10 per person per night, up to $13 per person, for the single room. Each room has its own private shower (with hot water 24/7), toilet, and linen, and there is also a private lounge between each two rooms, with cable TV, board games, and books to keep you amused if you fancy a quiet night in. My room was spotlessly clean and decorated in a quaint traditional Incan style.

Breakfast is also included, consisting of fruit, tea, juice, bread, and eggs. This is nice, as it gives you the opportunity to socialize with other guests. Also included in the price is airport pick-up, which on average saves you around $10, almost a free night stay! The hostel also has closed garage parking, a laundry service (S./4.50 per kilo, approximately $1.50), motorcycle hire, Internet access, safety box, telephone/fax facilities, and, if you have the time, Spanish classes.

I was impressed by everything this hostel offered, most notably, though, their ability to organize tours and trips for you anywhere in Cusco, Puno, Arequipa, and also Lake Titicaca, where they can arrange a traditional home-stay experiences for $45 a night. Unfortunately, I booked my tours through another more expensive agency, but if I had the chance again, I would definitely use this hostel’s services, as their prices in comparison were virtually half and the tours were identical and I found fellow guests who had booked through the hostel on the same tours as me!

The motto of the hostel is "your home away from home," and although in some cases this can sound a little cheesy, for this hostel, it is totally true, as the family atmosphere always makes you feel highly welcomed. I would definitely choose this hostel again if I return to Cusco.

Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta is located in the Tahuantinsuyo area of Cusco next to the beer company. More information can be obtained from emailing Javier, the hostel owner, at hosperecoleta@usanet.com or by phoning him on 51-84-231323 or 51-84-9695366.
Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta
Jiron Pumacahua 160
Cusco, Peru
+51 (84) 231323

La Mama Pizzeria

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shady Ady on August 22, 2006

This restaurant was a 2-minute walk from my hotel, located on Calle Recoleta between Retiro and Jr. Pumacahua, virtually opposite the beer company in Tahuantinsuyo. Although this doesn’t serve your typical Peruvian food, it does give you a cheap alternative if you are craving some more familiar food.

I found prices here very affordable, especially in comparison to similar eateries located more centrally around the Plaza de Armas, which is less than a 10-minute walk away. When you consider these restaurants, the prices offered by La Mama Pizzeria are virtually half. Plus, there is the added bonus of being able to see your pizza made in front of you. There are approximately 15 pizzas to choose from, including three vegetarian, and you can even design your own if they have the ingredients available. For a family-sized pizza (eight pieces), the average price is between $5 and $6.

Other than pizzas, there is a wide selection of burgers and sandwiches, and even pastas, starting at less than $1. For me, though, the best thing about La Mama Pizzeria is the set menu lunches, costing only $0.70. For this you get a soup for starters, a large portion of meat stir fry and rice for main course, and a fruit juice. You really can’t complain! Each day there is a different set lunch menu, except for Sundays.

The only downside I can think of is that the service could be of a slightly higher quality, but with this I am being picky! While there was no faulting the speed at which the food reached your table, nor the friendliness of the staff, it took at least 30 minutes after finishing to have your plates cleaned away and to have the bill. The easy solution to this, as I found the second time I ate here, was to walk to the front counter, where the pizzas are made, and this seems to speed the process up no end.

Although I am not sure of the exact opening times, it was always open at 9am in the morning and was still serving past 10pm. I have a feeling that hours are even later at the weekend. The restaurant can get busy, especially Friday and Saturday nights, and during the set lunches. Even so, there is always ample seating, especially at the back of the restaurant, where you will find some locals fixated to the TV, which always seemed to be showing Animal Planet.

If you are looking to save a little money and venture away from the tourist traps found more centrally, then you could do a lot worse than choosing to eat here. Unfortunately, I do not have any more contact information for the restaurant, but please feel free to email me if you have any questions.
La Mama Pizzeria
Calle Recoleta, Between Retiro And Jr. Pumacahua
Machu Picchu

Inka Food

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shady Ady on August 22, 2006

Located just outside the main tourist area of Cusco is this delightful restaurant serving a full range of dishes, from your typical American hamburger and Italian pizza to traditional Andean dishes, including guinea pig and, of course, the national staple, potato. There is also a wide selection of sandwiches and an array of breakfasts. As this is not in the more frequented parts of tourist Cusco, the prices are very reasonable.

Inka Food is located two streets behind Catedral del Cusco and the main square of Plaza de Armas on Calle Choquechaca. Unfortunately, the restaurant isn’t as easy to find as others on the same street, as you have to walk through a small alleyway to a courtyard and then upstairs before finally reaching the restaurant. Normally there is a person standing on the main road with a menu, which makes things a whole lot easier.

While the nontraditional dishes of pizza and sandwiches tend to be cheaper than those offered around Plaza de Armas, it is the local delicacy of guinea pig at less than $6 per serving that makes this restaurant a hidden treasure.

Luckily, the guinea pig meat comes rolled around cilantro dressing, which I think is much nicer than taking the meat off the guinea pig itself. If I had to describe guinea pig, I would say it is a cross between pork and turkey. Alongside the guinea pig, you also get a selection of potato recipes, which although doesn’t look much on the plate, soon fills you up. As long as you aren’t vegetarian, then I think it would be rude not to try this delicacy at least once. Even if you are vegetarian, like my girlfriend, the restaurant still has a large number of edible dishes, so much so that my girlfriend spend longer choosing her meal than I did!

The restaurant has a relaxed, ambient atmosphere, and if you have the choice, try to sit at one of the tables on the window balcony, overlooking the street below. The staff is very friendly, and during my visit, the chef even came to our table to greet us and offer us free Pisco Sour. You really can’t complain when a restaurant offers you free alcohol!

If you decide to try and sample some of the local delicacies and don’t fancy paying over the odds in the main tourist area, then you can do no wrong choosing to eat here. Expect to pay between $4 and $10 for a meal, depending on whether you are eating for lunch or for dinner. For more information, you can email Inka Food on inkafood@yahoo.es.
Inka Food
Calle Choquechaca 152, San Blas
Cusco, Peru

Machu Picchu

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Shady Ady on August 26, 2006

The legendary "lost city of the Incas," Machu Picchu, is without doubt the most important tourist attraction in Peru, attracting over 500,000 visitors annually and one of the world's most impressive archaeological sites. It is hard to believe that the enigmatic Incas knew neither the wheel nor any written language, but forged an empire stretching 3,680km along the mighty Andean heights. Machu Picchu looks awe-inspiring in photos, but these are nothing to seeing it in person. It is truly an amazing spectacle. Unfortunately, 500 words doesn’t really do Machu Picchu justice.

Built over 500 years ago, Machu Picchu was constructed on the summit of Machu Picchu Mountain, overlooking the deep canyon of the Urubamba river 2,800m above sea level and approximately 120km from Cusco. Machu Picchu was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire, with its giant walls, terraces, and ramps, which appear as though they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The whole archaeological complex covers approximately 5 square kilometres, although with the altitude when walking around, it seems to be much larger than this.

The complex can be divided in three distinct sections, agricultural, urban, and religious, but apart from this, there seems to be many conflicting reports of who lived here. Some say it was a monastery, others a university. Some even believe it is where the lower-class Inca inhabitants dwelled, who were unable to live. In one study, you read the inhabitants were tiny, while in another they were tall and athletic. For me, these conflicting statements only add to the experience. Not knowing for sure who lived here and how it was built I think are best left kept as secrets, as it allows you to come up with all sorts of imaginations and views.

The only one slight disappointment with Machu Picchu was learning that between 50% and 65% was rebuilt after discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Saying this, though, it took nothing away from my experience. In contrast, though, I was expecting there to be huge crowds of tourists, but because the site is so big, you never get this feeling.

There are two ways to reach Machu Picchu, by train, the most rapid and comfortable, and by foot via the Inca Trail. Due to time constraints, rail was the only option for me. I have spoken about travelling to Machu Picchu in another entry in this journal. I would recommend spending 2 days here, one to walk around the ruins and another to climb one of the nearby peaks, such as Huayna Picchu (3 hours round-trip) or Intipunku (6 hours round-trip). Only from here can you realize the full extent of Machu Picchu’s colossal conception.

Entry to Machu Picchu is around $20, but is covered in most tour prices. An interesting website to look out, run by the Municipality of Machu Picchu, is www.machupicchuperu.net, which gives detailed information of activities and accommodation in the local area. They can also be emailed on machupicchupueblo@hotmail.com.
Machu Picchu Inca Archaeological Site
Above The Urubamba Valley
Cusco Region, Peru

A Train Journey to Machu Picchu

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Shady Ady on September 9, 2006

Travelling to Machu Picchu, you aren’t really given that many choices. The Inca Trail is obviously the favourite of choices, but as only 200 people, including the guides and porters, are allowed on the trail each day, places can be booked up almost a year in advance. This leaves only the options of bus and train, and given the choice, I would choose a train ride to Machu Picchu any day of the week. This decision would not only be made on the current safety issues of many public buses in Peru, but for me, the train ride, starting in Cusco, has to be one of the most scenic in the whole of Latin America.

You are given three classes of train to choose from, with more or less all tour operators offering Machu Picchu packages with any of these classes. The most popular, and also the cheapest, is the backpacker train, at around $65 for the return journey. This leaves Cusco at 6:30am, returning from Machu Picchu at 4pm. Journey times for all trains takes approximately 4 hours. This was the train my girlfriend and I were supposed to catch, but a ticket mix-up by our tour operator meant we were upgraded to Vistadome class for free. It’s nice when mistakes are in your favour, but unfortunately it seems on average that this only happens once in a lifetime!

The only problem I can envisage about using the backpacker train is that although it only arrives 30 minutes after the Vistadome train, there is a big difference in the number of people already at Machu Picchu, which if you are picky, could put a slight downer on your enjoyment. The Vistadome train leaves 30 minutes before the backpacker train, at 6am. The other option of travelling by train is to travel in luxury in the Hiram Bingham class, which leaves much later at 8:20am. As this was completely out of our budget, I don’t know much about this service.

My first impressions of the Vistadome train were very positive, although I did notice one little white lie that many of the tour companies seem to tell you. When you see stated that this class of train has extra ceiling windows compared to the backpacker class, enhancing the views you can see, this is not necessarily true. The extra windows are slightly on the tiny side, and during the first leg of the journey from Cusco, these extra windows were all steamed up, allowing very little to be seen, other than ‘I love you’ messages in Spanish, written in the moisture. Obviously it’s nice to know there is a lot of love on the Vistadome, but it really didn’t do much for enhancing our viewing pleasure. On the journey back to Cusco it gets dark about halfway through, so again, they proved pretty useless.

On the positive side, though, the Vistadome class was smart and sophisticated, and looked as though it was brand-new. Even better was that the punctuality of the train that would put more or less every train service in England to shame. We left bang on time, and punctuality was perfect at each station all the way to Machu Picchu.

It takes about an hour to finally leave Cusco, as you scale the might of the surrounding hills via a series of switchback turns, which gives you amazing views across the whole of Cusco city. Once out of Cusco, you follow the Urumbamba Valley and River all the way to Machu Picchu through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Along the way you get to take in a variety of different landscapes. One minute you can be watching local farmers with their mules ploughing their dust-ridden inhospitable fields, the next you can be raising your eyes to the snow-capped Andean Mountains that look close enough to touch. After passing numerous adobe brick villages, all which seem to be centred around a football pitch (the most important part of Peruvian life!), you closely follow the foaming and frothing Urumbamba River for the last part of the journey, which, against the backdrop of the Andean Mountains, is absolutely beautiful.

Each carriage on the train is staffed by a porter and two crew members to help with your every need. Just after leaving Cusco, you are given a well-needed hot drink (that really doesn’t do that much to the freezing temperatures experienced!) and breakfast. Upon the return leg, you are also well fed and watered. The food was very similar to that of an airplane, and if you are like me and like the variety of small food samples that you receive, then you can’t complain at all. As I wasn’t expecting to be fed at all, it all came as a pleasant surprise.

I only had one complaint on the outward journey to Machu Picchu, and I am sure I am not the only person to have noticed this. During this part of the journey, a selection of panpipe music was played through the airwaves to sooth and relax you for the long 4-hour journey. Under normal circumstances, this would have been perfect. I mean, riding through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, listening to traditional panpipe music and watching numerous snow-capped peaks appear and disappear is was life is supposed to be about. Unfortunately, Perurail decided to ruin this heavenly moment by not choosing to play traditional panpipe music. Instead, they decided to play a selection of Celine Dion's greatest hits in panpipe version. I am sure that if you are a fan of Celine Dion, then this situation would be better than seeing the singing maestro in person! For me, though, 4 hours of straight Celine Dion songs was almost too much to handle.

Once arriving into Mach Picchu Pueblo (or Aguas Calientes, as it is sometimes known), it is just a short walk to the Rio Urumbamba Bridge, where you catch a bus to the fabulous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. The buses cost $4.50 each way, but costs are normally included in the price of the tour if going through a tour operator.

On the return journey, the train was more of a disco party than a train ride. First, the porter dressed up in traditional Andean clothing, complete with knitted mask, and paraded up and down the carriage performing a number of traditional dances. I actually felt sorry for him, as although he put in a fine performance, he did look a little uncomfortable and embarrassed with what he was doing.

Following this, the two crew members, one male and one female, put on a fashion show of clothes available for public purchase, many made from the fine wool of the alpaca. I don’t know if it was seeing flashes of naked skin, or the hardcore dance anthems being played, but by the end of the fashion show, everyone was clapping and cheering along to every turn and hip movement made by the posing supermodel wannabees. They must have put on a good show, as I think they sold virtually all of the clothes they were modelling to eager tourists wanting an alpaca jumper, or wrap-a-round to show off to their friends back home.

Throughout the train ride there are many excellent photographic moments, and as the train is travelling slowly, there is ample opportunity to catch that perfect moment. For me the best views were returning back to Cusco in the evening with the whole city lit up in a gold glow, a colour that the Incas were famous for. Best photos are on the left-hand side of the train going to Machu Picchu, and the right-hand side coming back to Cusco.

If you are expecting a nice, warm ride, then I am afraid you are going to be disappointed, as there is no heating on board the train. It is especially cold first thing in the morning, and my choice of flip-flops and shorts at one point led me to believe there was the possibility of losing some toes! Although I was more than happy with my decision later in the day, when I was met with the subtropical temperatures of Machu Picchu, I would seriously recommend wearing a number of layers of clothing so you can strip off accordingly. Maybe this is just common knowledge to everyone but me!

The cost to ride the Vistadome class can vary considerably, especially if going through tour operators, who can add on large percentages that go straight into their own pockets. I would recommend buying your tickets directly from Perurail at Cusco train station. This way a return trip to Machu Picchu costs $100. I was reliably informed that if you book your tickets 2 days or less in advance, you can save 50% on the cost of the tickets, but this doesn’t make any sense to me. Therefore, I would recommend visiting the Peru-Rail website at www.perurail.co.pe. Any specific questions, feel free to email me.

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