Category Archives: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Discover Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas

For the love of mountains

Ever thought of just going to the mountains and avoiding the cities? It’s something we rarely do but the mountains allow us a place where we can connect with nature, disconnect from craziness of the city, put our phones down and enjoy.

The new edition of the travel magazine we put together is all about the mountains. In Peru, the Andes are the biggest ones, with summits that can reach some 6-7000m above sea level.

The pages allow you to enjoy images and information about hiking up volcanoes, hiking to Machu Picchu, trail running, climbing and much more.

Enjoy the full edition here and let me know what you think or if you have questions!

Machu Picchu…a magical place!

Machu Picchu…what a day! It is located 115km northwest of Cusco and at an altitude of 2450m. The 18th of July we got up early to some rain, which rarely happens during the dry season (April-October) but can occur in a semi-tropical climate. We bought these plastic ponchos to not get soaked, but luckily it cleared up around midday! I had a fever the night before and probably that day too, so I was not at my best, but I made it through and we had an amazing, magical day.

Normally, most tourists go up the mountain called Wayna Picchu. A limit of 400 people can go up per day; this is the one I had gone up in 2009. However, what not many people know is that the other mountain called Machu Picchu can also be hiked. This year, we went to check out the view from up there. It took a while before the clouds moved out of the way, but we had a great view looking down at the site.

Brief history: in 1874, the German cartographer Herman Gohring mapped the region under the order of the Peruvian Government. He gave the names Machu Picchu (which means “old mountain” and Wayna Picchu to the site. The “rediscovery” of Machu Picchu was by Hiram Bingham, a North American professor who took an interest in Incan culture during a trip to South America.
Machu Picchu was the “university” for the Incas. Many nobles and privileged people lived there and it was considered very important. Along with Saqsaywaman, it is the highlight of Incan culture and demonstrates an excellent example of the Inca’s archaeological genius.

It was only in 1983 that UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a “Cultural and Natural Patrimony of Humanity”, making it a dream destination for many people around the world.

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The Sacred Valley

The next 2 days were dedicated to visiting sites in the Sacred Valley around Cusco.

Saqsaywaman: (pronounced Sexywoman by English speakers) means Satiate Falcon in Quechua and was built by the Incas. The site was used as a quarry by the Spaniards to build a cathedral, temples and houses. The surprising thing about the site is the size and weight of the stones (the largest one weighs 70 tons!) and how the Incas managed to build these walls. Saqsaywaman is still used to celebrate Inti Raymi (sun) every June 24th.

Pisaq: the small town is known for its fairs. The archeological site is composed of interesting and perfect stonemasonry buildings, which used to be a city. The Incas built warehouses for food in high altitudes and were able to preserve their crops because of the cold temperatures.

Ollantaytambo: The town conserved the urban planning of the houses, streets and waterways used by the Incas, as well as a fortress, squares etc. It was built on top of two mountains (a strategic place that dominates the whole Valley) and in some streets you can see colonial houses that were built on top of the Inca constructions.

Moray: the site is unique and impressive. Its name comes from the Quechua word Aymoray, which is related to the harvest of corn or to the month of May. The site, with its circular farming terraces each having its own micro-climate, was used as a laboratory for various plants and crops, and then they would know where to plant in the valley.

Chinchero: The view from this little village is amazing as well with views on lakes, mountains and fields. There are many weavings and the traditional ways are still practiced and taught to young girls. There is a big Sunday market every week. The colonial church is very impressive and was built over ancient Incan foundations.

Tipon: Is the perfect example of Incan intelligence and ingenuity. The irrigation systems made of water channels were built so that the water flows in a constant speed. The terraces are surrounded by perfect walls. The aesthetically pleasing waterfall is the most complete and largest known hydraulic system built by the Incas.

Pikillaqta: (means “City of Fleas”) is a site that dates from the pre-incan culture known as Wari (500-900 B.C.) and covers an area of 25 thousand acres. The perfectly straight streets are still visible, the houses were 2-3 storeys high and some walls went up to 40 feet. It is the oldest archaeological site that resembles a military facility because of the citadel surrounded by embankment and high walls.

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Puno and Lake Titicaca

Nov 11th 2o11

While in the reception of the hostel waiting for my Aussie friend to come by, I met these two kiwi girls who happened to also be going to the terminal. So I asked if I could share a cab with them to the terminal. And well, they were also off to Puno and so we ended up traveling together. I was feeling really bad, really tired, maybe a bit of fever and well the stomach wasn’t all that great. After a 4h bus, we finally arrived to Puno. It is by the lake Titicaca at an altitude of 3850m. It was night time and the full moon shining onto the lake and all the city lights were on. It is actually a bigger city than what I expected, about 180 000 habitants and it is not really pretty. When we arrived at the station this lady offered us a place for really cheap and we would have our private bathroom so we accepted. We arrived and I had my own double bed and bathroom, which was quite nice.

Lake Titicaca(which means Stone Puma in Quecha, or Grey Puma in Aymara the two indigenous languages and actually pronounced Titihaha), has a total of 40 islands. It is at an altitude of 3810m, making it the highest navigable lake in the world. During the 1970s, Cousteau explored the bottom of some parts of the lake, which has a deepest point of 270m. Much of the lake has still been unexplored. There are only small fish in the lake and some trouts but they do not get very big either.

The next day we were visiting the floating islands, Uros, which is 7km away from Puno, on the Peruvian side of the lake. Most of the people living there speak Aymara, Quechua and Spanish. The greeting we were taught was: “Kamisiraki” which means hello, goodmorning in Aymara.

The floating islands really do float. They use big blocks of earth and roots as a base, and top it off with an important plant called “totora”. They add new layers of this plant every 15 days during the winter and every month during the summer. When you walk on the islands, it is like walking on hay but you sink in just a little bit. They are about 2 meters thick. They also use the totora to build their homes, huts, furniture, and boats. It was really funny because they called their boats “Mercedes Benz” and at the end took us for a little ride, during which two men rowed us to another little island. They also eat the white part or the totora plant, which is meant to be very good for your teeth and health. They have a primary school on one of the islands as well, and afterwards the children go study in Puno. The visit to the island was informative, short and sweet. We got back to Puno and headed off on a 3h bus toCopacabana,Bolivia.

Ahhh… Cusco!

The overnight bus fromTrujillowas not the greatest and upon arrival inLimaI had a few hours wait in the airport. I sat and had a coffee and read my book. Next thing I know, I bump into Piotr, the Polish friend we met inQuito, he was off toColombia.

I arrived inCusco, and I almost forgotten how beautiful it is! It was weird, I remembered where everything was still! I went out for dinner with Sadidt and we caught up a lot! I was a little tired and she had to work the next day so we had a drink and called it a night. The following day, I spent walking around, sending postcards, reading my book in the plaza. Then I cooked for Sadidt while she was at work at one of the hostels. At night, we met up with two other girls, had pizza and went out for what was going to be another crazyCuzconight. The following day was a tranquil one. I went and had lunch with Yony and Wendy, the woman and her daughter whom I stayed with two years ago while I was doing my internship. It was really nice to see them, it’s crazy how time flies. They were so happy to see me; it is not often that volunteers or students come back toCuzco. Saturday night was another fun night. We went to what was my favourite place, a bar called Ukukus, where they always have live bands. The second group that played was amazing! Then we went off dancing until about 4 in the morning! On my last day, Sadidt managed to get a few hours off work and we walked aroundCusco, went for ice cream and then I took the night bus toArequipa.

I arrived this morning at about7am. I hung out, read my book and had breakfast while waiting for my room. Then, I headed off to the plaza to check out the city. I sat on a bench to see what the guide book said aboutArequipa. There was a man sitting next to me and he starting chatting and asking where I was from, if I liked Peru etc etc. Then, who walks by? My Aussie friend who I met and spent a few days with in Huanchaco, northernPeru! Ahahaha complete coincidence because we were not able to find eachother on Facebook so we had no idea! While I was inCusco, she had gone toLimaand Nazca. So tomorrow we are both off to Colca canyon for 3 days!