Cities of the Incas

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We arrived in Cuzco early in the morning and took a taxi to Hostal Frankenstein, a wonderfully quirky place full of Frankenstein paraphernalia and run by a friendly German chap. After settling in, we ventured out into the cobbled streets of Cuzco and quickly fell in love with the place. It is similar to Cuenca in Ecuador but even nicer. It is buzzing with life and brimming with old and beautiful buildings, churches, landscaped plazas, fountains, old women with llamas selling fruits and crafts, and literally thousands of restaurants serving everything from traditional Peruvian food such as chicharonnes (fried pork) and cuy (guinea pig) to modern international food. The area around the Plaza de Armas is undeniably touristy and there are street hawkers offering massages, tours, paintings, jewellery everywhere you look but just a few blocks away the pace is more relaxed and the narrow streets house many interesting shops, art galleries and cafes where we spent many hours strolling around in the sunshine occasionally stopping for a mocha and a slice of passionfruit cheesecake.

The owner of our hostal was very knowledgeable about organising our Machu Pichu visit and recommended we visit the Peru Rail office to see if they had any train tickets available. We had previously checked on the internet and found tickets to be too expensive. However, when visiting the Peru Rail office we found that there were some reasonably priced ones available. On purchasing these and the Machu Pichu entry ticket we were all set for our trip to the Inca citadel.

On the day we took a shared taxi to Ollantaytambo, the last town in the Sacred Valley to which you can drive. From here we boarded the Peru Rail 'backpacker' class train to Aguas Calientes. The train descended gradually through the Sacred Valley running alongside the Rio Urubamba while glaciers peered down from towering ridges above. After a couple of hours we reached Aguas Calientes, the small town closest to Machu Picchu which was heaving with tourists and where everything is priced accordingly. Even a bottle of water cost 3 times more than anywhere else. We did, however, enjoy a 4 for the price of 1 cocktail happy hour after we had checked into our hostal for the night. The next morning we got up at 4:30am hoping to get on the first bus up to Machu Picchu. We soon realised that this was unlikely when we saw a queue of about 200 other tourists already waiting! Fortunately the queue went down quickly as lots of buses kept coming to ferry all the passengers up to the city. At around 5:45am our bus began the steep ascent, zig zagging up the hill towards Machu Picchu. Although we were probably on around the 10th bus up it was still nice and quiet when we got to the top.

Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) is situated at around 2500m above the Urubamba valley. Archaeologists still debate as to the actual purpose of the city although it's likely it was used as a royal estate for Pachacuti the Inca emperor (1438-1472). The site itself is huge, a fact we quickly realised upon arrival. At first most of the site was cloaked in cloud which also enveloped the beautiful cloud forest in the surrounding mountains. However, as time wore on the cloud slowly disappeared and we were able to get some much better photos. The site is divided into urban and agricultural sectors, these sectors in turn are also subdivided into upper and lower sections. Being built on the top of a mountain the site involves a lot of vertical ascents and descents up different sets of stairs of which there are hundreds often carved from a single granite mass. The Incas were master stone masons and the dry stone walls of Machu Picchu were very impressive as the gaps between stones was miniscule. Much of the site is made up on agricultural terraces where it is believed the Incas grew crops to support the inhabitants. These terraces high up on the mountains afforded many unique horticultural benefits, including allowing the crops more intense sunlight for a longer part of the day but also irrigation control and better space utilization.

We spent around 6 hours at Machu Pichu before our need for lunch took us back down to Aguas Calientes. We then had a long wait for 3:50pm 'backpacker' train back to Ollantaytambo. From here we returned in an overcrowded minibus to Cuzco for a tasty dinner at Los Perros, a nice Aussie place where the burger was quite simply the biggest I have seen yet on our travels!

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