Here we are, finally arriving at Cusco, well known as the capital of the Inca’s empire. So many times we heard about it, so many documentaries and movies we have seen and now we will spend the next days here, for real. 🙂 Our 14 hours bus ride was pretty comfy, we mostly choose the company „Cruz del Sur“, since they offer Cama seats (160 degrees), blankets, pillows and food!
The outisde parts of Cusco are like most South American cities – not completely build and pretty dirty and dusty. Luckily, we booked our hostel close to the city center and can concentrate only on the beauty of the historical Cusco. Right on the first day we decided, as always for a free walking tour. Our local guide explained us (a group of 3) a lot about the Pre-Colonial history of Cusco, being bordered by two rivers and build in a Puma shape. All together, the Inca capital Cusco was consisting of 8×4 Blogs and only the Inka aristocracy was allowed to live in the city center. The main and most important temple of the Cusco empire, the Temple of the Sun was located right on the central plaza in the city and was famously decorated by gold and silver (of course only until the Spaniards arrived), its gardens were as well full of treasures which were mostly brought from different edges of the Inca empire.
After the Spanish conquered Cusco, they rebuilt the city and destroyed a lot of the original temples and houses. Luckily some of them served the spaniards as perfect foundings for their churches and new building, because of this fact there ist still enough original Inca walls decorating this mix of cultures.
Definitely recommendable is a visit of the Main Church at the ‚Plaza de Armas‘ ( entrance 20S) where local artists influence in Catholism can be seen, like for exmple a Guinea pig lying on the table in front of Jesus and many more.
The whole city is surrounded by Inca ruins of big importance and definetly worth to visit, If you are short on time, book a ‚city tour‘ which will get you first through the historical city of Cusco – Church and Quorikancha – Temple of the Sun and after your will visit ruins of Saqsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay – ooou yeah day full of ruins and history 😉
After getting to know the historical part of Cusco a little bit, we decided to book a daily tour to the Sacred valley of Incas. Fully organised tour in english – ooooh nooo, we ended up in a bus full of Peruvians and spanish speeking folk, so we can advance our spanish skills a little bit more. 😉
The sacred valley was one of the most important teritories of the Incas near Cusco. The whole valley stretches out from Pisac with its amazing ruins and agricultural teraces up to Ollantaytambo, the last Inca inhabitated city and big archeological side. During this trip you can admire amazing architecture, engineering and agricultural skills of Incas, which blood is still running in local habitants.
At the end of the trip on our way back to Cusco, we made one last stop in Chinchero village, famous for its Alpaca textile manufacturing. After a very firendly and sweet plus educative presentation from local women about the producing of the textiles and coloring them without any chemistry, we had to buy some of the alpaca products!
No doubt that the surrounding of Cusco has a lot to offer in both cultural as well as in natural aspect. That’s why we decided to conquer the so famous ‚Rainbow mountain‘, which has only been accessible to the public (and not only local people living in the mountains) since last year!
We booked our trip with a local agency with a super friendly pick up time at 03:00AM – aaaah. As always, to get ready for a new adventure we packed 2 full backpacks of fruits and water and food. My ‚small‘ backpack had approximately 100kg 😀
After breakfast in a small village and chatting with a local woman who was around 70 years old, constantly chewing coca leaves we drove 15 more minutes and finally start our hike up 🙂 Coca leaves are by the way known to help with altitude sickness! But we have to admit that some indigenous people take it „very serious“ with their coca and chew it almsot all day long…we wonder what affect it has… 😉
Since we are profesional hikers in the meantime, we are well prepared for every situation and weather condition: rain poncho, sunglasses, extra tshirt, knife, water, plenty of food and sweets, extra jacket, extra socks, extra rain poncho, extra knife, extra water – you never know when you need ALL of it. 🙂 Our guide started in a really athletic pace, maybe because he walkes up this mountain 3 times a week, so we followed J After a while we passed the first tiny village and entrance to the park, which was full of alpacas and llamas.
We started to descend steaply uphill, realizing that we were probably the last group for today hiking up to the rainbow mountain. From the middle of the trail we could already see that the weather up there was not that good and probably is going to rain a little bit (not a problem for our poncho ready team). Here we go, not only rain but snow hit us on our way up and we were almost sure that the rainbow mountain up there is going to have only one single color – white.
Let’s not give up and go to the top anyway…reaching the top 5200m, we gave each other high fives and laughed about not seeing anything except fog and some confused tourists taking pictures of a foggy mountain. As we were the last group up there, we had a little bit of privacy and time to eat our snacks (banana,apple, mandarine, granola bar, bread with cheese and one more granola each). After finishing all of this – surpriiiiiiiise, the clouds moved away from the mountain for a small moment and none of our group could hide the excitement- there it is, the Rainbow mountain!! A beautiful variety of colors like from a fantasy movie revealed itself to us. We fully enjoy these moments, and of course take 186 pictures 😉
After half an hour in the cold, we descended – looked like an easy job after we ate all the stuff and have seen the mountain. Suprisingly, the opposite happened and we experiened for the first time strong signs of altitude sickness. It hits at least half of our group of 12: headache, strange stomach feelings, dizzines – wooow, we surely didn’t expect this on our way back down. Probably our body didn’t realize until know that we were this far up and now pays everything back to us.
OK – we made it back to our bus with some help of water, snacks and coca leaves 😉 Luckily, after lunch and 3 hours ride back, we arrived at our hostel, exhausted but happy – what a busy day 🙂
Trek to Machu Picchu
The legendary Machu Picchu is so close! But we went from being super excited to almost rejecting going there…here is the story how we got there in the end:
- Wohooo, let‘s do a hike, maybe a couple of days-hike through the mountains and arrive at Machu Picchu!
This sounded like a perfect idea. We knew that the famous ‚Inca trail‘ is booked out for months in advance and we also knew that there are some other trails to do as a suspention for the Inca trail. After spending a couple of hours researching and running through several agencies, we found out that every single agency offers one trail: the „Salkantay trail“, taking 5D/ 4N. Hmm, our equipment is not the best for the rainy season in mountain for 5 days and also the thought that almost every tourist in Cusco will be on that trek, walking in line – nope, that didn’t convince us about this option.
So we spent another 2 hours of research and found out happily that there is another option for us, the „Lares trail“, 3D/2N, perfect duration. It would lead us through the local communities in the mountains, we would get to know the culture and would end up with a visit of Machu Picchu as well – sounds like our trip.
Next 2 hours, running through agencies and realizing that this trip is not as common as Salkantay and the price will be approx- 500$/ Person. Nooooo waaay for 3D hiking 500$!!
Since I – Jakub was looking forward to this place for longer time, I was really disappointed.
Everything around Machu Picchu is a huge business and turismus around this place is enormous. Do we even want to go there?
- Ellen solving the problem
Luckily, the second crew member of our team of 2, solved this problem. 😉 Lets do it the easy way and book the Machu Picchu 2days bus tour, including a one night stay in Aguas Calientes (where anyway everyone ends up, no matter if you hike, go by train or bus…).
Jakubs reaction – I don’t care, I’m disappointed, but lets go there once we are here.
- How we got there and how it was
Pickup from hostel in the morning. Driving for 6 -7 hours from Cusco to Hidroelectrica (we are still happy that we survived this bumpy, narrow, curvy street with our maniac driver).
Having lunch in Hidroelectrica, then walking 3 hours along the railroad tracks (totally forbidden but everyone does it…?!) to Aguas Calientes and get some good sleep there.
Start walking at 04:00am from Aguas Calientes 30min to the bridge which is the starting point of the 1750 stairs up to Machu Picchu. Waiting in line until 5:00am until the guard opens the gate.
Walking up the stairs from the bridge to the main entrance 50 minutes in good pace.
Waiting for the rest of our group and our guide and ready to go….at 6:30am, we enter the place…
The moment you first see Machu Picchu, still half covered in the clouds, being all mystical and full of history, you forget all the tourists, all the annoying planning, the early wake up and long walk – you are just there.
All of a sudden, it is not anymore the ruin from some documentary you might have seen on TV, now it is a real place and WE are THERE! Beautiful and mystical…
The first two hours we spent with our guide who told us more about this ancient site – actually we didn’t really pay attention to his stories, but rather enjoyed the view and the Llamas running arround us with the magnificent background of Machu Picchu. 🙂
As I – Jakub booked additionally the entrance to climb the Machu Picchu mountain, I had to leave our guided tour and started heading up to the mountain. To make it short – definitely recommended, doable in 1 – 1,5 hours (if you are fit) and the view is amazing.
Ellen, in the meantime, enjoyed the site itself and looked down on Machu Picchu from the upper terraces…you can sit there forever and just look at this stunning monument.
After walking around the site and taking enough long moments everywhere, our day at the Machu Picchu was over and we needed to walk back down to hidroelectrica, catching our 6 hours bus back to Cusco…all this terrible way back again, OMG!! Like this was not enough, a vampire flies invasion bit our legs and arms on the way back from Machu Picchu to Hidroelectrica, how terribly itchy!
All together, the whole area around Cusco is really turisty, but still amazing to see.
The crazy 2 days to reach Machu Picchu are long and exhausting, but definetly worth to do it and see that site once in a life (if you have some extra money for the train, maybe choose that option 😉 ) .
What a whirlwind of new experiences, impressions, people…let’s see what Arequipa has to offer, where we head next.