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Iain and Jo

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

PERU | Monday, 8 June 2009 | Views [1269]

Most countries have at least one over-hyped tourist destination, where everything costs more, the only people you see or meet are tourists, and the whole experience is so sanitised that it feels more like watching a movie than actually being there. Backpackers are always quick to point these out, so by the time we arrived in Cusco we’d heard enough to get the impression that Machu Picchu and the entire Cusco area were going to be a big disappointment. (Mentions in the guidebooks of ‘strangle-muggings’ didn’t help the situation either!). In the end though, we loved the whole area (and didn’t meet any strangle-muggers). There is a lot of hype, but to be honest, it’s justified.

A lot of the city of Cusco was built from a combination of Spanish architecture and Inca stone, both for symbolic and practical (there were a lot of stones lying about after the Spaniards had trashed a few temples) reasons. It shows – the city has a real European feel, except the almost monotone brownish colour of the stone looks a lot more like a small Peruvian village. It sits in the Andes at about 3500m (Kosciosko is 2200), and for most tourists (including us) is the starting point for trips into the Sacred Valley, and at the other end of the valley, Machu Picchu. We were staying in the arts district of San Blas, which is a bit of a climb from the centre, but worth it for some beautiful views over the city.

Our trip into the Sacred Valley started with a visit to Pisac. We planned to stop for an hour or so for a quick look at the Inca ruins and a walk through the market, but ended up spending most of the day walking around the ruins, which are spread out all across a mountain behind the town, and separated by little goat tracks (Inca tracks really, but that doesn’t really describe them) and at one point, a cave. Most tourists were on tour buses but we decided to walk, but were a bit unsure of the way down so asked the only Peruvian person we could see (an old woman who looked so authentic her face is probably on a few postcards) for directions. She pointed confidently at a path, but when we got lost later, we saw here again, also lost on the same track as us! So we ended up walking down with her family, all getting lost together. We all got there in the end though.

The next stop was Ollantytambo for a few nights. After exploring some more ruins, we hired mountain bikes and took a taxi up the winding mountain roads to the highest pass in the area. The views up there were incredible, but the real reason for the trip up was to ride down 1500 metres in 50 kilometres – a quick (and extremely scary) trip down but great fun!

Lastly, we moved on to Aguas Calientes (a grotty little town, but necessary to get to Machu Picchu), and at 6am the next day were sitting on the top of some very high mountains watching the sun rise over the famous ruins. Machu Picchu definitely attracts a lot of tourists, but it’s so big that quite often you’re on your own. I’ve seen a lot of photos, but really still had no idea that the ruins are sitting on top of a mountain with almost vertical drop-offs on either side, and similarly jagged points all around it. We climbed up Huayna Picchu at the back of the ruins for a different perspective (about 360m up to 2700m). At that altitude it is a big challenge to get up there, and I was really proud of Jo, especially only about a week after being discharged from hospital.

Tags: cusco, machu picchu, sacred valley, valle sagrada



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