Here I am again – back in Peru for this post. I am still hoping I can eventually catch up with myself!
From Lake Titicaca we wanted to travel to Cusco [often spelt Cuzco] and had been told by some cruisers we met in Shelter Bay that Peru Rail ran an excellent trip on the “Andean Explorer”. It sounded very good but, having looked into it and found that it cost US$164 [approx £115] per person, I looked for alternatives. There are, obviously, “normal” buses which ply the route but I also came across “Inca Express” which I recommend highly. I have seen comments on the Lonely Planet website about this trip being a “rip-off” [so I am not sure what those people thought about the Peru Rail cost] but we felt that the Inca Express was excellent value for money. Basically, for $50 [£35] per person we followed the route of the train but stopped at six different places – one of which was a restaurant for a buffet lunch included in the price. We did have to pay entrance fees for a couple of the sites but these were minimal.
Our first stop was Pukará where, once again, we saw statues of bulls perched on roofs for good luck – this one on the church gates.
Pukará is an Andean village near to the site of Kalasaya which was first inhabited between 500BC and 200AD and, in its heyday, was over a square kilometre in size and housed thousands of people – mainly priests, farmers and herders but also some warriors.
We didn’t visit the actual site but spent time in the museum which showcases some impressive sculptures the most famous being “Guerrero Pukará”…
From Pukará the coach climbed to 4,335metres [approx 13,440ft] above sea level where, at Apu Chimboya…
…..we visited the roadside craft area of “Abra La Raya”.
Our final two stops were churches – part of the Route of the Andean Baroque – promoted by the “Society of Jesus”. The income obtained from this Route is used for social work in the parishes [lunch rooms, libraries and play centres, health campaigns and services, residence halls to enable children to attend school etc] and also for restoration. Although photographs were allowed outside, no shots were allowed inside either church. However, we were given a DVD which contained details about the work of the Jesuits and about the churches and included lots of photographs of the interiors and the paintings – some of which I have used below.
Firstly we visited Huaro…..
Our second church was in Andahuaylillas – a very quaint town with a beautiful square surrounded on three sides by balconied houses and containing the brightly flowering Pisonay trees…..
On its fourth side is what is known as “La Capilla Sixtina de América” [The Sistine Chapel of America – actually the Ingelesia de San Pedro (Church of St. Peter)] fronted [as was Huaro church] by a pebbled mosaic area….
On the road again we passed the huge Inca gate – “Rumicolca”……
The foremost city of the Inca Empire, Cusco is the Americas oldest continuously inhabited city. The history of the city is reflected everywhere – for example “Loreto” [a small walkway with Inca walls on both sides]…..
There is classic architecture everywhere and “signature” blue doors predominate.
In reality, La Cathedral, flanked by two other churches and “squatting” on the site of an Inca Palace, is the real landmark of the plaza.
We bought a combined “Boleto Turístico del Cusco” [approx £25[$33]pp giving access to 16 sites and lasting 10 days] which, as well as allowing us entrance to some of the archaeological sites I will tell you about later, also enabled us to visit five city museums. We visited two and, unfortunately, weren’t particularly impressed – we much preferred the “Museo Inka” for which we had to pay a separate fee.
Mercado San Pedro in the heart of the city was a place we really enjoyed with its colourful stalls selling everything from dyes….
However, the “Boleta” was invaluable when it came to visiting the Inca Ruins surrounding Cusco and in the Sacred Valley. Our first trip out of the city was to Pisac which I found almost as dramatic and interesting as Machu Picchu. It maybe because it was the first large Inca site we visited but its spectacular situation perched on a mountain spur captured our imagination.
Maybe what we liked about it best was that it gets relatively few tourists and, by walking up from Pisac centre, we managed to have the place almost to ourselves for much of the time. We certainly didn’t mind coming across a local musician who played as we attained the first level.
….though perhaps the most impressive feature of Pisac is the agricultural terracing….
Mike was quite carried away pointing everything out….
Similarly – what are these holes for? As you can see they are part of a niche – but what is their purpose?
We do know that the photograph below shows burial sites, long ago desecrated, and no longer accessible to tourists.
Next on the Sacred Valley hit list was Ollantaytambo – another brilliant small village – much busier than Pisac because it is where the train to Machu Picchu starts and terminates. Having said that, many tourists only visit it for a couple of hours – to see the ruins there and/or catch the train. We were really glad that we spent a night there which allowed us a good look around the very quaint streets….
The site is fairly large….
Here we could just make out some carvings in the stones….
…found our accommodation and wandered around looking for a reasonable place to eat. As I said before, some people rush through Ollantaytambo to catch the train and equal numbers take an early train from Ollantaytambo and a late train back giving them just enough time to visit Machu Picchu – so they don’t really see Aguas Calientes. Although Aguas Calientes wasn’t our favourite place it wasn’t as bad as I had expected and it did allow us an early start to beat the rush.
There were a couple of statues to remind you of where you were!
…and from there it got worse! We had to shelter for about 45 minutes in a tiny three sided hut [The Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock – the original caretaker that is, not a present day custodian!] which wind and rain still blew into – and no, there wasn’t room for everyone!
Whilst Pisac and Ollantaytambo had seemed high up and enclosed by mountains, it felt like Machu Picchu really was in the lap of the gods.
…and noted that everything we had been told about the strength of the construction based on inclining walls was probably quite correct. These walls may have slipped a little but have obviously survived some form of subsidence.
…….which winds its way up the hillside crossing the road several times. We were advised by some friends who visited just before us that if we wanted to walk the footpath then down was the better option. Great advice Stephen and Sandra – forever in your debt! The height gained/lost during the walk is 1,400m [nearly 4,340ft] and Aguas Calientes is already at 2,410m [7,470ft] so the altitude, whilst not the greatest we encountered, does have an effect. Not to mention what climbing more than 3,000 steps would have been like! Coming down was a much better option and a nice way to finish our visit.
Machu Picchu is not included in the general Boleta I spoke of. You have to have a separate day pass [or longer if you wish]. You book these in advance on the Peruvian “Minesterio de Cultura” website. The cost varies depending on how long you want to be there [i.e. longer to walk the Inca Trail] and what you want to see/do [e.g. The Museum and the Wayna Picchu trail cost extra and must be booked and paid for at the time of purchasing the Machu Picchu ticket.] The Lonely Planet did not say that the Cerro Machu Picchu walk had to be booked in advance but when we enquired we were told we couldn’t pay on the day. Probably a good job in actual fact due to the weather and the number of steps you have to climb anyway among the ruins.
The Inca Train option we booked [there are two types of train and the time of day also affects the price] cost $120[£80]pp return. There is no other way of getting there and, booking this in advance is also essential. We were not there during high season and the train was full. The Machu Picchu ticket was $43[£31]pp. So, it’s not the cheapest thing we have ever done but considering Machu Picchu is the most famous Inca site and probably one of the foremost archaeological sites in the world it could have been worse!
On the way back from Ollantaytambo to Cusco we managed to catch a “tourist taxi” which had dropped some people off and was returning. We had the minibus to ourselves and knew the price of a seat on a full “collectivo” so basically offered the driver the same money. Not sure he was too pleased but he had the choice of at least making a little money so took it. Crossing the Altiplano we had lovely views of the mountains we hadn’t been able to see from Machu Picchu the day before – though looking back to Machu Picchu it was again covered by cloud so was probably still raining there.
The Boleta did, however, include Tambomachay, Q’engo, Pukapukara and Saqsayhuamán – all of which we covered in a brilliant 8km walk on our last day in Cusco. By catching the same bus as we had ridden to Pisac and getting off about one third of the way there [at Tambomachay – altitude 3700m (11,470ft)] we were able to walk down the valley and back to Cusco.
Built around AD1500, using local limestone, Tambomachay means “Resort” and is where many Incan’s lodged as it was on a junction along the “Kapak Ñan [Great Road]. It is also known as “The Baths of the Princess” has two aqueducts which provide spring water all year round.
We then walked inland and down the valley passing a “modern” village….
Just round the corner was Q’enco – meaning labyrinth. It was a sacred sanctuary for the worship of fertility and much of it was destroyed by the Spaniards in their attempt to do away with idolatry.
It did not take us long to walk round the few remaining walls.
Apparently what we see today is only about 20% of the original fortress. Much of the stone was taken by the Spaniards to build Cusco.
In 1536 the site was one of the bitterest and bloodiest battles between the Incas and the Conquistadores. Due to the Spanish initially only lightly guarding the hill fort it was recaptured by the Incan chief Manco two years after the first conquest. Manco Inca then used it to lay siege to the Conquistadors in Cusco and almost succeeded in overcoming them. However an additional Cavalry force was used to attack him killing thousands – most of Manco’s force. He retreated first to to Ollantaytambo and later, after being besieged once again, to Vilcabamba – his jungle stronghold and the last Incan refuge which fell in 1573. The Spanish included eight condors in their Coat of Arms for Cusco as a result of the number of scavengers which came to eat the Inca warriors bodies.
Having enjoyed Geology at school I was particularly interested in the rock strata around the site….
….and the natural chair which provided a well earned rest!
Now, you were probably thinking that that was the last photograph because my posts often seem to end with alcohol of some description. But, how could I? This has been all about the Sacred Valley and the Incas and it would not be fitting to end with anything other than this…..