LIMA, CUSCO, INCA TRAIL, MACHU PICCHU
Lima and Cusco
Wake up call at 3am, transport to the airport, picking up the luggage and let’s go! We are not a big fans of early mornings and the flight from Rio de Janeiro at 5:40am was really tough for us. After 5 hours in the air we are landing in the capital of Peru. We thought it might be a little colder here but it was even hotter in Lima than in Rio. Next flight took about 1,5 hour and we finally reached our final destination for next few days – Cusco. We shared a taxi with 2 Spanish girls and in about 15 minutes we were getting off in once a capital of the Inca civilization. Right after we dropped our bags in the hotel, had a small bite a went out to explore the city.
Because of the location of Cusco (3400m above sea level) we started to feel a bit dizzy from the high altitude. The best what you can do is to drink plenty of water, Coca cola, coffee but mainly Coca tea. With all this you can easily beat high altitude sickness. We read a lot about it and were a bit worried but it wasn’t as bad as we expected maybe also because we do hiking back at home in our Tatra mountains. In worst case most of the hotels or restaurants can provide oxygen bombs. It’s good that before we start the Inca trail we have 4 days in Cusco for acclimatization. Evening in Cusco was fascinating. Historic city has its own style and it’s buzzing all night long. There are vivid colors everywhere and judging from the shops and clothes of the locals it’s pretty clear Peruvians love them. We were hungry and tried to find some nice restaurant. There is a massive boom of Peruvian cuisine all around the world and we couldn’t wait to taste it. I have to say the food is really great and with reasonable prices. First day in Cusco and we already fell in love with the city. Good start, looking forward for tomorrow…
Today we woke up little early so we can slowly get into the rhythm with early waking up that awaits us on the Inca Trail and we went into the city. In a few minutes we were on the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Cusco. Nicely decorated square with shops, restaurants and churches is always full of people and almost every day there are held various celebrations and dances. We headed right into the information center opposite the square. Young guy with perfect English gave us a map and some good tips on what to see. We started with the famous district of San Blas. Bohemian district with a small square and fountain is a smaller version of Paris’s Montmartre. A few spiritual stalls selling souvenirs, museum, gallery and a few hippies selling paintings, bracelets, clothing and all kinds of herbs. It’s not far to get there but there is a slight ascent that makes you breathless. We will need more time to acclimate our bodies to become accustomed not to receive so much oxygen as in Europe… To recover from this we sat into the tiny tearoom, drank one tea and went up he hill to see the view over the city. Steep ascend wasn’t very long when we reached the Temple de San Cristobal from where was amazing view with Cusco at your fingertips. When we then looked around on a nearby hill we spotted a white statue of Christ, a smaller copy of the one in Rio.
The tea gave us real boost because even though it’s pretty high we decided to climb up there. But after a few steep steps we thought again we’ll give up. It was hot outside and climb up so steep in this altitude was really tough job. Finally after about 20 minutes we’ve made it and we were happy because the view from there was really worth it. Small garden with nice trees and right in the middle the white statue of Christ. Next to him are built three other crosses and the atmosphere of this place was improved with two older women in Peruvian costumes with young lamas, favourite domestic animals. After a while we went back down the steep stairs. We had a nice walk through San Blas and returned to the darkening city center. Then it was followed by dinner in real Peruvian restaurant recommended by one of my friends and the food was really excellent. I understand now why the Peruvian cuisine is considered one of the best in the world. Try and you’ll see…
Today we decided to go for a walking tour with the guide to find out something about the history of Cusco. Our guide Luis, archeology student was very well informed about the historical landmarks and Incas history. We started our tour on Plaza de Armas dominated by the Cathedral with famous picture of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, little bit adjusted to Peruvian history. The apostles have instead of wine Peruvian grapes drink and instead of bread they eat Cuy – Peruvian national food. We then went up to Templo de San Cristobal where we’ve been yesterday but today we took a different route. From there we took a bus and went to white statue of Christ and Inca ruins Sacsayhuaman, which was once important spiritual centre of Cusco. What’s left from it nowadays is probably just 20% from what it was before. There used to live around 10.000 people and the fortress was massive. One of the biggest stones there weight around 300 tones and no one knows yet how the stones got there.
The next stop was a alpaca clothing shop where we had a little refreshment and the owner explained us the way of colouring the fabrics. From there we took a bus down to Templo de San Cristobal and then we walked down to San Blas. There was a little surprise at the end of the tour which was a tasting of Pisco Sour – most famous Peruvian drink. Great. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Choco museum because the smell was absolutely fantastic.
Our stay in Cusco was slowly coming to an end. In the morning we returned to the Choco Museum. Not that I was some big fan of chocolate but we just liked the smell and the atmosphere inside. Admission is free and right at the entrance we were approached by one of the guides who explained us that on the 1st floor is the history and manufacture of chocolate. While we were checking the 1st floor she prepared a few samples for us to taste. I’ve never seen in my life so many possible combinations of chocolate with all sorts of fruits and vegetables, nuts, chili peppers and I do not know what else. They were followed by all sorts of chocolate liqueurs with different combinations from all around the world. We finished this visit with a cup of coffee on a blue balcony with a lovely view on the nearby square Plaza Regocijo.
After this sweet beginning of the day we went to the market Mercado Artesanal. It’s a huge market with all kinds of good about 15 minutes walk from the city center. You’ll find here everything – food, fish, cheese, vegetables, fruits, clothing but at much lower prices than in the center. We bought some souvenirs and went back because in the evening we had planned a briefing in SAS Travel agency before tomorrow’s departure for the Inca Trail. Our guide Orlando gave us general information about how the four-day march on the legendary Inca road will look like. Time of departure was set at 5:30am, we better get going to sleep now…
Day 1 – Inca trail
We met early in the morning on Plaza de San Pedro, jumped into the bus and adventure started… The journey time from Cusco was about 2 hours and on the way we stopped in one of the restaurants for breakfast and on the next stop in Ollytayntambo we picked up a few sherpas and headed to small town Piskakucho on 82km wher our trek started.
Our group consisted of 16 people, mainly Americans, 1 Swede, 1 German, 1 Spanish, 2 Canadians and two of us from “exotic” Slovakia. Of course they wrongly wrote into the papers we are from Slovenia, never mind… Upon arrival in Piskakucho we picked up our luggage, some snack and started to march. One more photo of our group with guides in front of the main board of Inca Trail and we reached the 1. checkpoint. The guards stamped our papers for entry into the national park, checked the passports and then we finally could cross the raging river Urubamba across the bridge and start our trek.
After about an hour of walk we had first refreshment stop in one of the local communities that looked like a tropical garden. Locals welcomed us with fresh fruits from the nearby cactus Tuna, which is very common plant here. Orange fruits were excellent and tasted almost the same as orange melon. This was followed by about 2-hours ascent through beautiful countryside surrounded by high hills. At the end of this hike we stopped for a lunch. For our 16-members group there was about 20 people of staff, which consisted of a cook, his assistants, porters and three guides. Now a little bit to the food. I don’t want to go into details but what the cooks prepared throughout the four-day trek was absolutely delicious. These guys totally cast spells and we did not understand from where is that fantastic food on the table in front of us. Lunches and dinners always started with hot soup with quinoa, followed by various avocado salad and finished with main courses such as alpaca, turkey and various types of meat with garnish. To drink we had tea for digestion such as Muna tea or Celery tea. Really 1st class service… After the lunch we hiked for two more hours until we finally reached our first camp Wayanana at 2600 meters altitude. The tents were ready to go so we just jumped into the sleeping bag and the first 8 km of the trek were completed.
Day 2 – Inca trail
Today we had quite tough climb ahead of us with the elevation of 1300m and surpassing the highest point of the whole Inca trail – Dead Woman’s Pass at 4215 meters altitude. At first it went well but with increasing altitude was started to feel the pressure in our heads combined with heavy breathing. We’ve managed to pass it at the end and on top of the hill we enjoyed fully deserved rest in heavy fog. After this highlight of the day we started to descend into the valley to our second camp. Since the camp was located at an altitude of about 3600 meters it was a distinctly cooler there. The chefs as a reward prepared for us delicious tea with different fruits that tasted similar to our mulled wine. Our guides on other hand managed to get fantastic Peruvian rum so we had very good sleep that night… The hardest part of the trek with the highest elevation and total distance of 12 km successfully done.
Day 3 – Inca trail
Wakeing up as always at 5:30am, breakfast and again steeply up. We looked forward for this day not just because we were getting closer to Machu Picchu but mainly because this part went through the rain forests with diverse flora and fauna and many Inca ruins. As we were told from here 95% of the march went through the original Inca steps. This part of the tour was not such as steep as the one from yesterday but it was the longest one (16 km). The third day of Inca trail belongs to the most popular especially for guides because of going through the above-mentioned rain forest. As soon as we entered into it we understood why. There are different types of flowers, especially orchids and with all possible sounds, animals, caves, overhangs and moss over the heads with the constantly dripping water, it was just beautiful. Lunch was at a high prospect where we met a few lamas. Before nightfall we arrived at our latest camp just before entering the park of Machu Picchu and as the conclusions of the march chefs prepared for us very nice farewell cake. After the dinner we went to sleep because we had to be ready for very early wake up call.
Day 4 – Inca trail
Last day of the trek is the shortest one (7km) but because of the restrictions and time regulations at the entrance gate to Machu Picchu we had to wake up at 3:30am. After about one hour walk wee reached the Sun gate – official entrance to the site from where we could see through first glimpses of Machu Picchu. It was still cloudy and was also raining but after a while the clouds disappeared and sun came up. So here it is – legendary Machu Picchu. We all have seen the picture a hundred times but you can’t be prepared for the excitement once you see it for real. Some might say it’s just an old ruins of a city somewhere in the mountains but the view on a perfectly built city with one of the most developed civilization leaves you absolutely speechless. All the scenery of precisely made stone houses lying on green terraces and with majestic Wayna Picchu at the back is like from the fairy tale. There are a few places in this world difficult to describe and this is one of them. You just have to see it to believe it. Some people in our group had a trip to Wayna Picchu booked for today but I was glad I booked for the next day. We had enough time to find out everything about the history of this magical place and see it in whole beauty. Yes, it’s true the houses are built without a mortar which was to avoid houses to fall apart during earthquakes which are quite common in this area. And yes, it’s true most of the stones are so precisely made you can’t even stick a leaf of grass inside. My deepest respect to Incas and the way they built it…
After we’ve been in almost every corner of the site we decided to walk to the top and then right towards the ancient Inca bridge which was also one of the entrances to Machu Picchu. It takes 20min to get there and the view on the entire canyon with roaring Urubamba down below is absolutely spectacular. After this we went back and took a bus down to Aguas Calientes where we had last lunch with our group. The bus ride takes about 20min and costs 12USD but if you want to save money you can walk down through a nice forest. There are steep stairs but the nature is beautiful and in 90min you are in the centre of Aguas Calientes. The town is known for a thermal spas and after Inca trail I can highly recommend them. From the main square it takes 15min to get there. There are maybe 10 sitting pools with warm or hot water and because it’s outdoors you can see all those amazing mountains while having a splash. I just sat down and enjoyed every moment trying to absorb everything we have experienced on this amazing day…
Wayna Picchu – Return to Cusco
Right after the breakfast we took a bus and went back to Machu Picchu. We were glad we could see the whole place once again and as a bonus we had booked a trek to Wayna Picchu. For those who don’t know it’s the big mountain from behind Machu Picchu. If you ever go there I recommend to book it way in advance because the trek is limited to maximum 200 people in 2 treks per day. Our trek was the early one scheduled for 7am. It was ideal for us because afterwards we still had enough time to see the Machu Picchu again and visit even those parts we couldn’t see yesterday. To climb up Wayna Picchu is a real experience. On the way up we saw various types of orchids, meat eating plants and also wild strawberries. Get ready for a steep ascend. It took us 40min to reach the top but I have to say we were still in good shape from Inca trail. It was foggy all the way up and we were hoping by the time we get there it will be nice and clear. And we were right. After a while the fog disappeared and we had the most amazing view of Machu Picchu you can ever see. If the traffic on the top wouldn’t be regulated we’d be sitting there probably until now…
Slowly we started to descend. After returning to Machu Picchu we went to see some places we didn’t have time to see yesterday. Around noon we had to say goodbye to this magical place bnecause we had a train back to Cusco booked for 4:43pm and we still had to get down from here to Aguas Calientes. We decided to skip the bus and walk down there to enjoy the trek little bit more. After 1,5 hour we came back to the hotel, had a quick lunch and went to the train station. Blue train of Perurail company was another highlight of the day. The sides of the roof are made from glass and you can see all the mountains and the nature during the ride. The interior of the train is marked with various maps and Inca symbols and there is also a small refreshment included in the price. The whole journey back to Cusco took about 4 hours.
We were looking forward to our next destination Bolivia but I have to say it was really difficult to leave magical Peru…
Tip 1: Buy a pack of coca leaves on the street when you come to Cusco and stay hydrated all the time.
Tip 2: Go for a free walking tour. It’s for free but leave some tips at the end. The meeting point is at Plaza Regocijo.
Tip 3: If you want to visit Cathedral for free do it in the morning during the mass.
Tip 4: If you go for Inca trail book the trip to Wayna Picchu for the next day. Don’t forget to book it way in advance.
(Prices as of March 2015)
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