Week 4: Cusco, Machu Picchu & Arequipa, Peru
Trip Start Mar 31, 2014
25Trip End Sep 18, 2014
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The first half of this week seemed to be all about the Inca's, with our tour of the Sacred Valley of the Inca's on Monday and then Machu Picchu on Wednesday.
The Sacred Valley tour was a full day visiting the archaeological ruins at Pisac and Ollantaytambo, walking through plenty of markets, and seeing a demonstration in Chincheros of how they turn alpaca wool into handmade sweaters, rugs, etc. It was a long but interesting day, and a good introduction to the best site of them all, Machu Picchu.
When we got back to Cusco, we finally had the infamous Peruvian dish of guinea pig (cuy)! We didn't have it the traditional way, instead having tandoori guinea pig in an Indian restaurant
We left Cusco early Tuesday morning and travelled by bus and then by the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes (meaning 'Hot Water'), the town below Machu Picchu. It was quite a luxurious train ride through the mountains, arriving just after lunchtime. We chilled the rest of the day and ensured we got an early night ahead of an early start the next morning.
We were in line just after 5am to get the bus up to Machu Picchu, a 30 minute ride winding up the mountain. The early start was to make sure we beat the big crowds and caught the sunrise through the mountains, and it was certainly worth it! The photos probably don't do it justice, as it was just amazing sitting there as the sun started to shine on the ruins through the fog. We were there until mid afternoon, including hiking up to the Sun Gate for views over Machu Picchu and taking a tour of the ruins, as the sheer size meant there was plenty to discover. It is simply unbelievable how such a city can be built there in the middle of nowhere with such detail.
We caught the Vistadome train and then bus back to Cusco in the evening, and enjoyed a little show on the train on the way back by the staff (possibly because it was dark and hence no scenery to look at), including a dancing performance and fashion show
We had one last day in Cusco, which was quite uneventful apart from visiting Qoricancha, the Sun Temple, which is another interesting Inca site but in the middle of the city. In the evening we took the overnight bus to Arequipa. To be honest as nice and enjoyable as Cusco is, we were ready to leave as we'd had enough of being hassled every 30 seconds, whether it was for a restaurant, massage, tour, paid photo with old Peruvian women holding lambs or alpacas, shoe cleaning, souvenirs, etc.
Arequipa was a 9 hour bus trip south west from Cusco, and is the second largest and second most visited city in Peru. It is surrounded by 3 volcanos (only one is active), and is the base for visiting the Colca Canyon. We arrived early in the morning and after checking into our hotel we headed into the city and did the free walking tour. The highlight though would definitely be lunch, where we went to a crepery which had over 100 different varieties of crepes...yum! (We had a Roquefort and pear crepe and a banana and caramel one to chase it.) We also visited the Santa Catalina Monastery, which is the most important and prestigious religious building in Peru. They describe it as a 'city within a city' and it was incredibly peaceful and quiet; away from the hustle and bustle of Arequipa.
On Sunday we were picked up around 3.30am for our 2 day/1 night Colca Canyon trek. The Colca Canyon is about 3 hours outside of Arequipa and is one of the world's deepest canyons at more than 1km deep at some points, and is at altitudes of more than 2,000m above sea level at the bottom. Prior to reaching the start of the trek we also stopped off at a Condor viewing point, watching Condors fly all around us and within the canyon
We trekked for around 6-7 hours on the first day, including descending over 1,000m to the bottom of the canyon, and then up and down until we reached the 'oasis', our accommodation for the evening. We then rose at 5am the next morning to hike back to the top of the canyon, taking another 3 hours. It certainly wasn't the easiest trek, as not only was it tough terrain to walk up and down, but it was at high altitude too making it even tougher. Several times during our trip we questioned why the heck we thought it had been a good idea, and we were certainly feeling the pain by the end of it, but enjoyed it none the least.
On the return bus journey back to Arequipa we had a few stops, including at some hot springs to ease our aching muscles, a few great viewing points over the canyon and at one of the highest road passes in the world (4,910m above sea level) with 360 degree views of the canyon and Andes. We finished the evening with dinner with some of the people from the trek.
Now we're off to Puno for our last stop in Peru, Lake Titicaca, before our Bolivian journey begins.
Mitch & Sally