Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Mountainous High (!) Lights of Peru

Pun intended: While Peru does invite its visitors to experience the 'sierra', 'selva', and 'costa' - the mountains, the jungle, and the coast - the first-mentioned is definitely the most unique and alluring region.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Peru
The indigenous people living in the Andes still wear their traditional attire - and not for touristy purposes


Whether the highlands and canyons around Arequipa in the West or the Northern part of the Altiplano, the Andean Plateau, that originates Northwest of lake Titicaca and spreads about 1.000 kilometers into Bolivia - the mountainous region is indisputably a geographically and spiritually one of a lifetime experience.

Presuming that nobody will go to Peru and skip Cusco or Lake Titicaca - after all, these places are legendary - I put together a guide for those who do not have enough time to meander the 'ruta del gringo', the route from Lima all the way down into Bolivia, but just come to see:


Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Puno and Lake Titicaca

Cusco

Ollantaytambo and the Valle Sagrado de los Incas

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu


Arequipa and the Colca Canyon


Arequipa


Let's start our Anden circuit in Arequipa, the 'white city' with the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

The city that is at 2335 meters (7661 feet) and above sea level has a population of almost 900,000 people. Already this altitude caused me minor problems: I felt a little dizzy and nauseated, and the fact that I came by night bus and had to get up in the wee hours to visit the Colca Canyon did not help to make me feel better.

Arequipa does have an airport so that you can comfortably fly in from Lima. However, domestic flights are not exactly cheap, and in general, buses are very comfortable in Peru, so getting to Arequipa by bus - especially if you are not coming straight from Lima - is an option.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa
Even the parts of Arequipa that are not made of sillar, a white volcanic stone, are well maintained.


The city itself is very elegant and beautiful - there is money here, in the mid-2000s Arequipa was the city with the highest economic growth in all South America. This is mainly due to the mines (there used to be silver and gold, today they have only copper), but this industry, of course, causes ecological and also social problems.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Cathedral
Protests in front of Arequipa's grand cathedral: Workers that are digging for copper, silver, and gold - a trade, that destroys the nature as well as their health.


The main attractions are found in the city center and can be visited in one day - or two, if you want to take it really slow and relaxed.

Around the elegant Plaza de Armas are beautiful, well maintained colonial buildings, many of them have restaurants on the upper floors, overlooking the plaza from shady balconies.
According to my experience, the view and the flair are better than the food, which is ok, but a bit overpriced. Well, you know: location, location, location.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Casa Iriberri
There are many policewomen in Peru, and many of them look like wearing a 'sexy cop' costume. Here, two ladies in front of the Casa Iriberri, a former mansion of a wealthy family, today housing the administration of the university. 


The most prominent building, of course, is the cathedral, here Arequipa is no different from other South American cities.

Peru is a very Catholic country, hence there are many, many churches, and in Arequipa they are all built from white tuff and breathtakingly beautiful:


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Iglesia Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo at the corner of Pierola and Santo Domingo.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Iglesia La Compania
Iglesia La Compañia at the corner of Alvarez Thomas and Santo Domingo.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Iglesia San Augustin
Iglesia de San Augustin at the corner of Sucre and San Augustin


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Iglesia San Francisco
Iglesia de San Francisco at the corner of Melgar and San Francisco.


Not to be missed is a visit to the Convento Santa Catalina, which is actually a small city in the city - and it's not white, but painted in bold colors.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Convento Santa Catalina
Beautifully painted and decorated alleys between the nuns' housings.


You can visit the alleys, the yards, the nun's quarters and there is a great exhibition of colonial, sacred paintings.
To get a better understanding of life at the monastery, joining a guided tour is recommended.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Arequipa Convento Santa Catalina
View of the whole complex - a quite impressive size.


Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina 301
Arequipa
Phone: + 51 - 54 - 221213 / 221234 / 221235
Email: informes@santacatalina.org.pe 

Opening hours are  Monday to Saturday from 10 a. m. to 1 p. m. and 3 p. m. to 6 p.m. (Saturday only till noon)

Another highlight is the Museo Santuarios Andinos, part of the Catholic University UCSM and home i. a. to Juanita, an Inca girl, probably sacrificed about 500 years ago and found in 1995 in the glacier ice of 6380 meters high Ampato.

You can only visit on a tour guided by one of the students.
Before the tour, they show you a highly interesting video on the topic of the Inca culture and their sacrifices. All this is illustrated by a great collection of ancient artifacts.

Museo Santuarios Andinos
Calle La Merced 110
Arequipa
Phone: + 51 - 54 - 215013
Email: santury@ucsm.edu.pe

Opening hours are Monday to Sunday from 9 a. m. to 6 p.m. (Saturday only till 3 p. m.)


Colca Canyon / Cañón Del Colca 


Besides being a beautiful town - and home to Nobel prize winner 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa - Arequipa is the hub for tours to the Colca Canyon, and that's something you shouldn't miss. You can book tours at many agents around town - and you should not do it online since that's much more expensive than if you do it on the spot. There are day trips and different hiking tours that take several days.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Colca Canyon
View of the majestic valley.


For the day trip, I got picked up at the hotel 2.30 a. m. - that does not sound very tempting, I give you that. Although I was wearing a hoody and a down jacket, it was ice cold, I asked myself the entire drive to the first stop how I would survive the day.

After about 4 hours freezing, you arrive in Chivay, a picturesque town where you'll have a meager breakfast - but it warms your stomach and the town's beauty does warm your heart.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Chivay
Arriving at picturesque Chivay, being greeted by traditional dances at 8 a. m.


Chivay has about 5000 inhabitants, and a small group of them is dancing around the central square. I doubt that these good people are in full swing at 7.30 a. m. when no tourists are expected, but it's still beautiful and nice.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Chivay
Last exit Chivay.


After the snack and the dancing, the tour continues to the literal highlight, the Condor’s Cross. The tour promises an impressive view of one of the deepest canyons in the world  - which is correct - and to see the Andean Condor fly; el condor pasa. In our case, we spotted the condor on arrival from far - and that was it. But the views are breathtaking, so nothing to complain about.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Colca Canyon
Visiting the Cruz del Cóndor - without seeing the condor; it's like they say: el condor pasa - y ya pasó....


On the way back to Arequipa, you'll get more views of this wonderful landscape and you visit some small villages with colonial churches and many, many vendors offering all sort of nicknack and Alpaca wool.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Colca Canyon
Río Colca.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Yanque
Yanque - one of the small villages around the valley, consisting of a big church and a handful of small dwellings.


After a good lunch, at 4800 meters above sea level, you'll get cold again while observing Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuñas, and Guanacos at the Pampa Cañahuas.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Pampa Canahuas
These animals, wearing their soft and warm fur coats, seem to be pretty resistent to rain and cold.


There are many operators offering pretty much the same tours - whether it's day trips or hikes of two or three days. I went with Colcandina Travel and cannot say anything bad about them - it only might be possible that you get a better price on the spot than pre-booking via the internet.

Colcandina Travel 
Calle Moral 115
office number 221
Arequipa
Phone: + 51 - 54 - 241789
Email: colcandinatravel@gmail.com / colcandinatravel@hotmail.com / info@colcaperutours.com


going up!


Puno and Lake Titicaca


It's a 6 hours drive from Arequipa to Puno, a city whose 140.000 inhabitants are obviously living mainly from the proximity to the Lake Titicaca.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca - what else can I say about a view like this?!


I decided on taking a tourist bus that promised to include some great, breathtaking stops - well, it did stop for picking up more passengers in Chivay and I think I remember a bathroom stop and that was about it and my breath was only taken by the altitude. To cut a long story short: This tour is not worth it, especially not for about 40 US$ for a ride that on a local bus costs about 8 bucks (it was different on the touristy ride from Puno to Cusco, we come to that later).

If you've felt the effect of the altitude already in Arequipa, let me tell you, it won't get better - in Puno, you find yourself at 3.830 meters - more than 12,500 feet above sea level. Actually, I was not able to withstand the day without some medication that I bought in Arequipa and that after a couple of hours made my mucous membranes paper dry which resulted in a nosebleed.

Puno has - this won't surprise you - a Plaza de Armas with a Cathedral. And it has the Mirador El Condor overlooking the town and the sea, but in that altitude, I certainly cannot climb up to a mirador.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Lake Titicaca - Uros Islands
There are still about 2000 Peruvian and 2600 Bolivian Uros people living on about 120 self fashioned islands on Lake Titicaca. Today, their own language is lost, but they still speak Aymara, one of the three official languages in Peru (Besides Spanish, there is also Quechua. If you are lucky, you can even attend a church service held in Quechua.)


Most importantly it has the Jarron de Lima with restaurants and shops and agents where you can book a tour on the lake to the Uros Islands - isles made of straw.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Lake Titicaca - Uros Islands
An Uros lady is rowing a large boat around her home island.


Although there are - on the Peruvian side of the lake - still about 2000 people living on about 120 straw isles, the tour deemed a bit Disney-ish: Nice, but also extremely touristy and a bit cheesy: The ladies sang a traditional song, and then we had to sing a song and this might sound cute, but it wasn't, it was silly. They explained how the isles including the housings and boats are made and then they sell some truly unique souvenirs like wind chimes and containers - made of....right: straw!


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Lake Titicaca - Isla Taquile
Isla Taquile, one of the most beautiful islands I've ever set foot on.


However, final stop - and the tour's highlight - is Isla Taquile. Now, this is really a jewel! The islands, the views, the whole atmosphere is just paradisic - and a bit quirky: Taquile's inhabitants live according to a bunch of unique traditions. One of them is that only men are knitting, and let me tell you, they do it with talent and verve. In 2005, Taquile and its Textile Art were proclaimed Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Lake Titicaca - Isla Taquile
I know that they have a lot of practice, but I still find it fascinating that these gentlemen are walking around, chatting, laughing....all while they are knitting the most complicated patterns.


I suffered a big deal from the altitude, stumbled around like a zombie and was hardly able to eat something. The recommended coca tea did not help, the drugs I'd bought - some tablets they sell you from an open pack, something totally unthinkable in Europe - did a good job; but they dried out my nostril so that after a while I got a nosebleed. One pays a high price for all this awe.




bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Lake Titicaca - Isla Taquile
A Taquileño overlooking the deep blue lake. I wonder if he's dreamily enjoying the view - or just dreams of getting away from all the knitting.

One of the best dinners I had in Peru was served at the "Tradiciones del Lago" at Jr. Lima 418. It was their special "Alpaca a la romuñay con guarición de puré de quinoa" - Alpaca with quinoa in mashed potatoes; it's melting in your mouth!



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Anticuchos
Another extremely tasty traditional Peruvian dish: Anticuchos, marinated beef heart.

Going from Puno to Cusco (or the other way around, for that matter) you can easily add a handful of really nice sights on the way. While on the way from Arequipa to Puno, this option was not worth the extra fare, the trip to Cusco - starting in the early morning and taking all day - was really nice and I do totally recommend it.


Turismo Mer
Puno Bus Terminal
Terminal Terrestre Puno
Counter 3,4,5 Boque IV
Phone: + 51 - 365 617

This office is open from 6 a. m. to 10 p. m.

In case you are doing this tour the other way round, you'll find their office in Cusco at

Turismo Mer
Cusco Bus Terminal
Terminal Terrestre Cusco
Satand E-3
Phone: + 51 - 951 - 751023

This office is open from 6 a. m. to 10 p. m.
There is another office closer to the city center, but their opening hours are much shorter than the ones at the bus terminal.


The Sun's Route / Ruta del Sol


So this is what you visit on the trip from Puno to Cusco

1. Pucara, about 100 km/60 mi from Puno, with a nice cathedral at the town's plaza where you get guided through an archeological museum. If you'd like to get some ceramics for a souvenir, do it here, the vendors around the plaza sell nice pieces for really good prices.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Pucara
Iglesia de Santa Isabel de Pucará


2. La Raya, the highest point on your way - 4.335 meters/14,222 feet above sea level.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - La Raya
View of the dramatic 'La Raya'
(Photo: Mimi Green)


3. Lunch at the Pascana II restaurant at Sicuani, where you cannot only sample Peruvian food but buy all sort of knitted wear and take cheesy pictures with llamas and alpacas and Peruvian kids dressed as...Peruvians. That part is a bit tacky, but the food is really nice, considered that it is a tourist trap.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Sicuani
Racked up animals and disguised kids - how tacky and touristy can it get?!

4. And off you go downhill - from La Raya you'll have dropped 1.200 meters/almost 4,000 feet - to Raqchi to visit the archeological site with the remnants of the Great temple the Incas had built for God Wiracocha. Souvenirs also here - I bought a really neat woolen wall hanging. Don't forget to bargain a bit.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Raqchi
A majestic Inca Temple made from clay and volcanic rock.

5. Your getting close to Cusco, only one more stop: Andahuaylillas (no, there is not one single typo in this word!), where you find the really beautiful church of St. Paul and St. Peter, quite rightly also referred to as Latin America's sistine chapel.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Andahuaylillas
Yes, it's a nice baroque church - but sistine chapel? Really? Have you been to the sistine chapel? Because that's another place that overwhelmed me so much that I almost cried (yes, I do cry easily, I could make a living as a professional mourner) - and lo siento mucho, but this cute little church cannot compete with it. 

And finally, in the late afternoon, you arrive at Cusco. ¡Feliz Viaje!


going up!


Cusco



What a relief it was arriving in Cusco: Its located at 'only' 3.400 meters - a bit over 11,100 feet - above sea level and my body also slowly got used to these altitudes, at least when I did not exercise, which in this case would already be walking a bit faster.

Anyway, that I loved and enjoyed Cusco was not only due to my better being but mainly because of its incredibly beautiful and well maintained colonial structures and outlay. If Disney should build a South American Themepark, they could use Cusco as a blueprint - it is such a classic; there is even a gothic-like style of painting called after this gem 'escuela de Cusco' - school of Cusco.

Some of the best and greatest examples of these large-scale paintings depicting sacred and historic scenes are found at the Museo de Arte Religioso, located one block North of the - yes, here, too: Plaza de Armas.

Museo del Palacio Arzobispal de
Arte Religioso del Cusco
Hatun Rumiyoq
Cusco
Phone: + 51 - 84 - 222781 / 225211

Open Monday to Saturday 9 a. m. to 12.30 p. m. and 3 p. m. to 6 p. m.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
The 9th ruler over the Inca empire, Pachacútec Yupanqui, overlooking the Plaza de Armas; even the sky chips in to increase the dramatic view.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
Siete culebras (seven serpents - I'd like to know where this name comes from), one of the tiny alleys leading away from Plazoleta Nazarenas in the proximity of the Museo Inka.


While most of the museums and exhibitions housed in churches focus on colonial art, one should not forget that this was the art of the Spanish invaders; the real local art - beautiful, original, and refined - comes from the Incas and can be found in Cusco at the Museo Inka.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco - Inka Pottery
Inka pottery. I wonder, is the guy to the left holding a telephone receiver in his hand?


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco - Inka Pottery
Simple, but definitely very beautiful: Inka cacti.


Museo Inka
Ataud 154, Cusco 08000, Peru
Phone: + 84 - 23 73 80
Email: museo.inka@unsaac.edu.pe

Thursday 8AM–6PM Friday 8AM–6PM Saturday 9AM–4PM Sunday Closed Monday 8AM–6PM Tuesday 8AM–6PM Wednesday 8AM–6PM Suggest an edit

Walking one block South the Tuoman street, there is the unavoidable Plaza de Armas with the likewise unavoidable Cathedral on the Northern side.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
This is South America: Two huge houses of worship in one single square. To the left the Cusco Cathedral, to the right the Iglesia de Compañia.


On the square's  Eastern side is the slightly smaller Iglesia de Compañia and next to it the Museo de Historia Natural, the natural history museum.

Every single building around the square is cute and colonial and just a joy to look at. There are shops on the buildings' ground floor and also travel agencies where you can book tours at a much better price than on the internet.
Only regarding a visit to Machu Picchu, you might prefer to bite the bullet and book everything in advance since places are limited - even the overpriced train tickets range from overpriced to outrageous, so even here you shouldn't wait too much.

Colonial Cusco is like an outdoor museum and offers far more majestic squares than just the Plaza de Armas: One block South is the small square Plaza Rogecijo with the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, the Museum of Contemporary Art, on the Western side and the Museo Histórico Regional, the Regional Historical Museum, in the East.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
It's high, hence there is a lot of precipitation. I was very privileged that it didn't rain when I went to Machu Picchu.
Here you see the Plaza and the Iglesia de San Francisco.


One block further South, there's another majestic place with another majestic house of worship: Plaza and Iglesia de San Francisco.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
Busy Santa Clara street.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
I'd love to know whom they are gossiping about.


To see some real life - workmen waiting for the bus, mothers with babies shopping groceries, students in spiff uniforms walking back from school - walk down South the Santa Clara street.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco Mercado de San Pedro
Marcado de San Pedro, one of the most opulent markets in Peru. Colorful flowers are sold in bulks.

After a long block, you'll reach the Mercado San Pedro, a real Peruvian market where real vendors sell real produce to real Peruvians. Here you can buy herbs and teas and spices - and maybe some fruits for your day trips laying ahead of you.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco Iglesia de Santo Domingo
The arcades of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo are adorned with precious paintings from the 17th and 18th century. Since this church was built in the 16th century on the ruins of the Inka temple Coricancha, today, there is a wild archeological mix to be admired.


Before you leave this wonderful town, there is one more building not to be missed - not only for the marvelous old structures but also for the amazing view of Cusco and its surroundings: The Iglesia de Santo Domingo, located about a 15 minutes walk East of the Plaza de Armas.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
 Iglesia de Santo Domingo: Church with a view.


Extra: There are so many places and churches and museums to be visited in Cusco as well as at its proximities. Getting a Boleto Touristico,  the Cusco Touristic Ticket, will save you a little money since entry to 16 attractions in the city of Cusco and adjacent places are included - have to be visited within ten consecutive days, though.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Cusco
Remembering who were the founders of Cusco*


* Note: Don't get confused if you see different spelling. Some write Cusco with an s and some with a z. Same with Inca and Inka. Even more confusing: Sometimes the 'female' mountain Huayna Picchu is spelled Wayna Picchu, and this variation is found in other Quechua Indian words, too.


going up!


Ollantaytambo and the Valle Sagrado de los Incas


Although already Cusco is a high light, its surroundings, the archeological sites at the nearby valleys, are not to be missed.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Valle Sagrado de los Inkas Peru
Can't get enough of these views? Don't worry, there is plenty of them in Peru.

There are loads of tour operators around Cusco - if you want to make sure to get a good price, you have to do some walking (which is pleasant, anyway) and comparing. Anyway, booking your tour on the spot will save you a lot.

Usually, the tours include the following spots:

1. Visit of the Mercado de Qorao, a touristy market selling all sort of souvenirs and some - overpriced - fruits.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Valle Sagrado de los Inkas Peru
Their job is being cute. I know that at least one of them rather should be in school and I shouldn't encourage him by taking his picture; I know, I know.


2. Visit of Sacsayhuamán, a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, and Moray, Inca ruins, consisting of several terraced circular steps.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Valle Sagrado de los Inkas Peru - Moray
Majestic terraces of Moray.


3. Visit of Pisaq, a town in the lovely valley. The main purpose of this stop is to visit some jewelers and to buy their products at 'outlet' prices; hence, the Peruvian equivalent to the visits of carpet factories in Northern Africa or Turkey....

4. Lunch buffet at a restaurant in Urubamba. Yes, the restaurants of these touristy tours are....touristy. But - and I cannot stretch this point enough - that doesn't mean at all that it's not rich and delicious! On all my tours in Peru, I got excellent food!


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Peru
One of Peru's national dishes, guinea pigs. This specialty is particularly popular in the Andean region, and yes, it was also on the buffet at the restaurant in Urubamba. And yes, I did try it.


5. Tour of the archeological site of Ollantaytambo.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Peru Ollantaytambo
Ruin with a view: Looking at the town of Ollantaytambo from the archeological site.


6. Visit of the town of Chinchero- and the market there.

Since by the time we got to Ollantaytambo, I'd had my share of handicraft markets and skipped the last stop.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Peru Ollantaytambo
On the main square of Ollantaytambo.


I decided to spend the night in Ollantaytambo, a precious little town located 2,792 m (9,160 ft) above sea level, consisting of dust alleys arranged around the Plaza, the main square.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Peru Ollantaytambo
It's beautiful and picturesque everywhere you go in Ollantaytambo.


Yes, here, too, there is a souvenir market next to the archeological site and since I had the rest of the afternoon to myself, I had time to compare and to haggle a bit and actually did buy a pair of cute earrings in the shape and design of the Andean cross - at a fraction of the price they charged in Pisaq.

I spent the night at a very charming little guest house in the outskirts of Ollantaytambo before catching the train to Aguas Calientes the next morning.


going up!

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu



And we keep descending - to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to the mystic Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes, located at 2,040 m (6,690 ft) above sea level, has a population of 1,600 - and I think every single one of  them has a guest house or a restaurant or a shop or at least a stand at the enormous market everybody has to cross when getting from or to the train station.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
Although the clouds might impair the view, their veil makes this place deem even more mysterious.

Besides the bus stop for Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, which means hot waters, has....hot waters; thermal springs, that is, so if you decide to spend the night here, you can relax there after all the climbing and awing.

To get to the hot springs, that contain sulfur water, you just have to hike along Avenida Pacacutec from the Plaza de Armas uphill for about ten minutes. To really make the best of it, you should plan at least two to three hours for your soaks.

The thermal bath is open from 6 a. m. to 8 p. m. and popular with tourists and locals alike.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
The one iconic view of the site.

But first, let's climb and awe at Aguas Calientes' main attraction, Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the modern world and since 1983 one of Peru's twelve UNESCO world heritage sites.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
Those guys used to dress up pretty flashy yet archaic. No wonder it feels to me like they lived thousands of years ago and not 'recently' during the European Renaissance era.

It's strange, when I think of the Inka culture, I always have the feeling that their civilisation has existed like thousands of years ago, long B. C. It's all so mysterious and secretive - the customs and traditions, the buildings and the attires - out of this world; at least out of my world. But no, the height of the Inka empire was just about 500 years ago. At that time, Europe already had grown out of the medieval age. However, European art, attire and everyday life feel much closer and much more recent. This only shows, how different and strange their habits deem us, how the mystical customs make the Native American culture feel far away in time.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
The structures of the dwellings are in pretty good shape and condition.

So the dwellings at Machu Picchu were probably built in the 15th century and occupied only over a relatively short period of a hundred years. The architecture and other indications suggest that it was a royal complex to ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (who today resides on top of the fountain at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco).


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
Unimaginable how humans were able to construct all this in this hardly accessible place. 

Although there were research and excavations taking place for about 150 years now, there are still questions remaining unanswered. There are many speculations why the Inka made an effort to built a vast site in such an inaccessible place above the Urubamba River valley in a narrow saddle between the two prominent peaks that are Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. Most researchers agree that Machu Picchu must have been a sacred place. Excavations of bodies prove that the site was mostly inhabited by women.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
Getting high on Huayna Picchu.
(Photo: Mimi Green)

Today Machu Picchu is one of the top tourist attractions not only in Peru, but worldwide. To protect the site, there are rules to obey when visiting, and just last year they got a bit more restricted.

Since July 2017, there are two tours per day: the first visit is from 6 a. m. to noon and the second one from noon to 5.30 p. m. If you wish to visit Huayna or Montaña Picchu, too, it also works in shifts.
Since in the past tourists did misbehave and mistreat the precious remnants, the visit is only possible on a guided tour in groups of 16 persons max. Regular entrance fee is 152 Soles (approx. 47 US$), students and minors pay half price, kids up to 8 years have free entrance.


Llamas at Muchu Picchu
There are a lot of Llamas on the premises, but this of course captures an extremely charming moment.
(Photo: Mimi Green)

It is possible to buy tickets at Cusco short before you go, but places per day are limited and you do risk that - especially Huayna and Montaña Picchu - are sold out. I really believe this is the one place where booking ahead is recommendable, especially since you also have to book your train ride and it might be wise to check the trains first since the prices differ a lot. If you have to watch your budget a bit, you sure have some coordinating work to do.

Note: You can only buy regular tickets online. Reduced student tickets must be purchased in Cusco showing a valid ID. 
At the entrance to the site, you'll be asked to show not only your passport but also the credit card that you used for buying the tickets online resp. of course, your student card if you got a student ticket. This is absolutely obligatory and the people at the gate are not willing to make exceptions.



bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
I do look like I'm living in a trailer park, I know, but it's wise to wear something comfortable since you have to do a lot of walking and climbing. And you should dress in layers since the temperature up there changes pretty fast - depending on the clouds.


There are various websites offering tickets and tours. I would opt for the official site, run by the ministry of culture.

There are organized hikes along the ancient Inka trail - a classic one that takes four days and a short one that takes two. I bet it's an one of a lifetime experience - but I will miss out on this: Already walking a bit faster or climbing stairs was hard exercise for me, so I definitely do not see myself hiking for four days. If you want to do it, keep in mind that reservations have to be made at least four months (!) prior to arrival in Cusco and prices start at US$ 450 for two days/one night.

Like I said, in addition to your entrance ticket, you need to buy a train ticket. Here too, the official is best, and that would be Perurail. Still, the fare is a total rip off and they can get away with it since there is no alternative. It starts at about 60 US$ each way, but there is also the possibility to take the luxurious Hiram Bingham that will cost you the nuance of about 430 US$ each way. So yes, even if you choose the cheapest option, in total you'll pay nearly 200 US$. I must say, it was one of the most impressive day trips of my life - but it was also the most expensive one.


bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Machu Picchu
It is expensive, but it's worth every cent: Already the views on the train ride are just mindblowing.

Actually, I just read recently that there is a way to get to Aguas Calientes by taking local buses to Hydroelectrica ('buses': plural because you have to change various times) and then walk along the rails for three hours. Okay, in my humble opinion, if I have to spend hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket going to Peru, I am not carrying my stuff along rails where I have to take care not to get hit by a train. If I cannot afford to get there safely by a however overpriced train at this moment, I work another year and save more money before I go.

Once you arrive at Aguas Calientes by said train, spending is not over, unless you are young and fit and do not suffer from the altitude. Although I felt much better after having left Puno behind, I still felt it as soon as I walked faster or uphill or climbed stairs. And to get from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu, you have to do about an hour of steep climbing. Not for me, I took a bus: 10 bucks each way.

Another little tip: Try to pack all the water and snacks you need for the day. Aguas Calientes is living off the tourism, but that's still nothing compared to the prices they charge for refreshments at the site.

A last advice: Once you get back to Cusco and need to continue to Lima, I'd really recommend flying since going by bus takes about 24 hours.

So that was it for the Altiplano - the highest of high lights, not only of Peru. Travelling the route I've described here was one of the most mesmerizing travel experiences I've ever had.



Wanna know more about fascinating Peru? I've published a post on my entire trip which includes also Lima, the Paracas-region, and Pucallpa in the outskirts of the Amazonas territory.


going up!


You might want to pin this post for when you are going to Peru. Please make sure to use exclusively this picture:





26 comments:

  1. Thanks for this very comprehensive and detailed guide. I can't wait to go to Peru, so I'll definitely be pinning this for future reference!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, I'm glad I could inspire you. It's so worth it - just mesmerizing and beyond beautiful!

      Delete
  2. I love your voice in this piece. The captions on the pictures are hilarious and your opinion on the train vs bus and plane vs bus are spot for us. When I get to Peru, I would have spent a considerable amount of money, not to mention time away from work. I can literally put a price on what my vacation days cost me. Spoiler alert, it's a lot more than the price differential between an airplane back to Lima vs 24 hours on a bus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, although I'm not the big spender with an unlimited amount of money to spend on my travels, sometimes it's just a very simple calculation that makes you say, ah, what the heck. Here we are talking over a hundred dollars difference, but I've witnessed people getting into really uncomfortable situations over something like five bucks. It's not my business at all, but I would like to tell them: think...just think!

      Delete
  3. What a fabulous tour of Peru you enjoyed and love the way you detailed it for others to follow in your footsteps should they choose. So many highlights. One question though that was NOT answered ... guinea pigs. You said you tried them, but you did not follow up with any sort of commentary. Inquiring minds want to know ... what did they taste like?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, I didn't want to sound like, come here, kids, gather around the fire place so I can tell you my adventures.
      I've just eaten a little piece and it was not as dark roasted as those on the picture. This said, I found it pretty mushy - a bit like pork, but soft. But like I said, could be the way they prepared it.
      What I really liked - now that we are talking about slaughtered animals... - was Alpaka. The meat is like beef, but very, very firm - pure muscle. That was excellent, some of the best meat I've ever eaten. But now enough, I feel like Hannibal Lecter.

      Delete
  4. I've always wanted to visit South America! Seeing your stunning pictures Peru must be an amazing place to visit, and I hope I'll have such a chance in the future. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish you will - it's really amazing!

      Delete
  5. This looks like such a great trip! Such gorgeous views!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, every spot is just breathtaking (sometimes literally 😉)

      Delete
  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It brought me back to my time in Perú, a country I completely fell in love with. However, I am one of the idiots that went to Perú and wasn't able to fit in Lake Titicaca, Arequipa or Colca Canyon. I know, I know. Facepalm. I am going to go back and am pretty sure I will do my Spanish immersion program there to finally get to fluency. I laughed at your comment "el condo pasa y ya pasó". Es la verdad! Good to know that the Puno tour isn't really worth it. I also never thought about South American Disney should use Cusco as a blueprint. I totally agree! And yes, the different spellings can get confusing. Some of that is the Quechua spelling and some of it is English vs Spanish too (Cusco vs Cuzco). Sorry to hear you had so much trouble with the altitude. It can be difficult from what I understand. We didn't have any issues, thankfully, but saw people who did. The highest altitude we reached was a little over 16,000 feet. Which brings me to my question. Did you go to Perú and not see Rainbow Mountain?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Heather, nope, I did not see Rainbow Mountain. I think that in a country as rich as Peru everybody does miss out on something, right?!
      And regarding Puno - I didn't really like the tour as such, but Taquile Island is fantastic - but extremely touristy.
      Keep in touch and let me know how your Spanish is going on! Coraje, amiga, coraje!

      Delete
  7. Thanks for all the great tips to visiting Peru. I haven't been, but it is on my list.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm inspired by your travels! A life of experiences rather than so much stuff. Yes please!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow! It is a dream of mine to travel more, especially to richly historical places like this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is one of the destinations that has impressed me the most.

      Delete
  10. Your photos are gorgeous and this makes me SO excited for my upcoming trip! I'll be visiting Peru for the first time this summer :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Wow! An impressive collection of information that will be very helpful when we travel to Peru in the future. Even with the 2:30 am wakeup, the Colca Canyon must have been amazing to witness in person. Even though it is such a touristy area, Machu Picchu is so high on our list, we can't wait to experience those views!

    ReplyDelete
  12. One usually associates Peru with Machhu Pichhu, but really there is so much more to see and experience in this exotic country. I for one am bowled over by the elegance and old world charm of Arequipa. It is so well maintained and the old buildings look so majestic. The other thing that I find really charming are the animals, they are so cute. A pity that they and kids are exploited for tourism.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Checking out the archaeological sites would definitely be on my list! I haven't experienced anything like that. Also---how DID you like the guinea pig??

    ReplyDelete
  14. Well this took me right back to my honeymoon! We were meant to do a Colca Canyon trip but I hurt myself so we just spent three days wandering Arequipa. I really wish we had seen Lake Titicaca, that two-headed boat looks so cool! I guess we will have to see it from the other side and not get to eat that delicious alpaca and quinoa dish.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow Peru is truly beautiful. I have been there before but a long time ago and after seeing your pictures I realized I had not completely seen or enjoyed Peru. I am definitely considering going back now! Thank you sharing your trip, your images were beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  16. What an amazing part of the world! I just love your colorful photos. This makes me SO excited for my upcoming trip to Peru!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you very much for your comment. I do appreciate your visit to my page and your interest. Come back soon!