Cusco Part 1: Inca Ruins and More

Moray_1I have recently returned from a 10-day trip to Peru – to Cusco and to the Peruvian Jungle! I had an excellent time on our little adventure and am now back in La Paz. We left Fri July 28th and arrived back in La Paz on Mon Aug. 6th. I went with Susana and Mike (my boss and her husband, as well as being my housemates). I was invited to join them on the trip which had been organized around Susana’s family trip to the jungle.

I will be writing 3 blog posts to update you all on the trip, which correspond to the 3 different phases of the trip. We were first in Cusco for 3 days, then in the jungle for 5 days and then back in Cusco for a day and a half or so. I had been to Cusco previously with Dave before we hiked the Inca Trail, but there is so much to see in and around Cusco that I didn’t see anything twice.

Day 1

Our journey began on Fri, July 28th. We drove from La Paz to Desaguadero, the border town between Bolivia and Peru, in Mike and Susana’s car. The trip lasted about 2 hours and we were lucky enough to see a lovely sunset over Lake Titicaca along the way. Cesar, one of the office drivers, came with us to Desaguadero and then took the car back to La Paz. It is difficult to cross the border in a car (or at least the process is longer), and there wasn’t going to be a secure spot to keep it in Cusco while we were in the jungle. We crossed the border on foot, which involves checking out of Bolivia, and checking into Peru and filling out forms in both places.

On the Peru side of the border, we were met by a driver hired by our tour guide, to take us from Desaguadero to Puno. Dinner consisted of an anticucho (grilled meat and potatoes) on the street in Desguadero. We arrived in Puno at around 9pm (Peru time, which is one hour different from Bolivia), having left the office in La Paz at 4:30pm. We went straight to our hotel, which was the same one where Dave and I had stayed the last time I went through Puno. At the time it was a decent place to stay, however this time Hostal Pukara caused us some problems. On arrival we were told that, although we had had a reservation for about a month, there wasn’t actually any room for us. They were happy to call up Hotel Italia and book us rooms there, so it all worked out in the end.

Day 2

Early Saturday morning we were on our way to Cusco on the Inka Express, a tourist bus which stops at various locations of interest along the road to Cusco. Our first stop was at Pukara, a small town with a museum containing artifacts from the Pukara culture. Along the way we stopped at a few photo op locations, which all had makeshift handicraft markets geared to the tourist buses, as well as a center which had llamas, alpacas and vincunas as well as a replica of a typical Andean house. We had a buffet lunch in a small town and continued on to San Pablo, where there is a large catholic church and then to San Pedro where there are the Inca ruins of Templo del Dios – Wiracocha. The ruins were quite impressive. The walls that were still standing were made of typical Inca rock work and above that mud-brick.

We arrived in Cusco at about 5:30pm and went to our hotel, which was the same B&B that Dave and I stayed at when we were there. We had dinner at an English pub and I had some of the best curry I’ve had since leaving Canada (Indian curry is pretty tough to find around here!). Headed back to the hotel and had an early night, which was a good thing because there were a lot of late nights/early mornings to come on the trip!

Day 3

Sunday we toured the Valle Sagrado (or the Sacred Valley), which is something Dave and I did not have time for when he was here. We were picked up from a hotel in the centre of Cusco. The sacred valley is so-named because it has very fertile ground and the Inca’s used it for agriculture (and it is still used as such today). The first stop of the day was at a lookout, overlooking the entire valley, where there were your typical handicrafts being sold and girls dressed in traditional clothing with llamas asking for money if you want to take their picture. The next stop was a small handicraft market.

After that, we stopped at Pisac, which is a small town with a huge handicraft market, and on Sundays (lucky us!!) a big traditional market as well. Sundays tend to be market days because everyone comes down from their communities to go to church, and while they are at it, do their commerce. Having been to a few markets already, we took the opportunity to go on a short walk up some stairs to see the terraces nearby, which were leftover from Inca days. There are also ruins in Pisac, but much higher up the hill and time didn’t allow us to make it all the way there. We even managed to get some shopping in at the market on the way back to meet up with the group.

After Pisac, we went for lunch at a restaurant called Tunupa in Urumbamba. Lunch consisted of a huge buffet, with all sorts of Peruvian food, as well as other really good food. There were also tonnes of desserts, and the ones I tasted were fantastic.

Ollantaytambo_8After lunch we continued to Ollantaytambo. I had been there before, but only briefly as a stop on the way to the start of the Inca trail. Ollantaytambo is an Inca town, with Inca ruins. Much of the town is built on Inca foundations. The streets are narrow and the walls are made of stone. The ruins at Ollantaytambo are pretty impressive (and you can tell by the number of tourists that were there!). The ruins are of an Inca fortress and there are still terraces, walls and storage shelters standing. On one wall you could see where the Cruz del Sur and the head of a Puma had been carved.

We stayed the night in a little hotel in Ollantaytambo. We enjoyed a short walk before dinner and then tried to find a restaurant where we could have a light meal after the giant lunch we had eaten. When we turned in for the night we still hadn’t heard from the tour company what time we were being picked up in the morning.

Day 4

Monday began with a bit of uncertainty. We were booked for a private tour from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco, stopping at a few other locations less frequented by tourists. However, we hadn’t heard from the tour company about what time we were to be picked up. After about an hour, of waiting and trying to get in touch with the agency that booked our whole trip, someone showed up at the hotel to take us on our way.

Salt mine_3The first stop of the day was at a salt mine. We opted for the walk to the mine, which was about an hour uphill. The salt mine, which is owned by the workers themselves, consists of an area on the hill where a saline spring comes out of the mountain and where people have built catchment ponds to collect the salt. A worker will fill his pond with about 10cm of water, and then wait while the water evaporates, leaving behind the salt. They then collect the salt and sell it. We were able to talk to a few of the workers and taste the salt on some roasted corn.

From there we continued to the town of Maras, a small town typical of the Andean region, then onto Moray. Moray is an Inca ruin which was used for agricultural experimentation (see photo above). It consists of three large circles of terraces and some channels for irrigation. Only one of the circles has been re-constructed, but the other two are very much visible. We walked down to the bottom and then back up again and had a lunch provided by the tour company. After lunch we walked the hour and a half back to Maras along a dirt track used by the local farmers. The views were incredible and we passed by a few groups of local people attending their animals.

Weaving demonstration_8On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at a town that is known for its richly coloured textiles. We stopped by a workshop where local women demonstrated how they clean the wool, dye it with natural dyes from assorted plants and then weave it into things like blankets, shawls and belts. The women started the workshop themselves and tour groups now stop by for demonstrations and will often buy some of the incredibly beautiful textiles (I bought a belt!).

Back in Cusco, we had about a 15 minute turn-around time to make it to the Q’osco Center for a show featuring traditional folk dances from all over the country, accompanied by traditional music. The dances were really good, and the costumes were so colourful. From there we went to have a bite to eat and then back to the hotel to pack for the jungle!

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Posted in peru | travel Submitted by Meg on Fri, 2007-08-10 14:13

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