Cusco, Peru – Machu Picchu, Quinoa, Potatoes and Guinea Pig???

Leaving Buenos Aires we head to Cusco Peru the capital of the former Inca Empire. At 12,500 ft Cusco challenges even altitude seasoned Coloradans. This flight turns out to be one of our most challenging yet. Long story short, after a night in Santiago, Chile our early morning flight to Lima was cancelled. After 3 hours with customer service we finally land in Cusco. We have no luggage. The next morning we leave for Machu Picchu. Booked weeks in advance, with only beachwear on our backs, we needed our bags. After several more baggage f’ups, Dan was finally able to get our bags literally seconds before we had to leave to catch our Machu Picchu train.

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Getting to Machu Picchu is still a breathe taking adventure. Even in 2016 it requires getting to Cusco. A 90 min cab ride, 2-hour trains ride and a harrowing 30 min bus ride. Or you can walk “the inca trail” and that is 4 days.

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The hippie and her backpack.

The small tourist town closest to Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes, Hot Water in English because it has hot springs. This town isn’t very exceptional, mostly standard tourist town junk. Overpriced low quality restaurants and knock off souvenirs.

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Our time here was only worth mentioning because for the 36 hours we were there, the power was out almost the whole time. Even in a remote city that should be used to being cut off the impact of having no power or internet created a semi-controlled chaos.

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Necessity dictates a romantic candle lit dinner in Aguas Calientes.

Walking in to Machu Picchu early in the morning we are a little drowsy and still getting our bearings. We quickly walk through most of the site, hurrying to get the gate for Huayna Picchu by 7 AM.

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The peak of Huayna Picchu looms over the ruins.

Only 400 people a day are allowed to hike the very harrowing steps up to the peak. It’s quite a trek up but we’ve heard the view from the top is amazing. Huayna Picchu itself is really cool. Built as a sentry tower overlooking everything there are a good amount of ruins and stuff to see even on the top of this crazy steep mountain.

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That fall is every bit as deadly as it looks. 2000 feet down to the river below. No guardrail.

Finally getting there we look out over the valley and… all we see if fog.

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We wait a few minutes for the sun to rise higher in the sky and magically the fog clears and it’s stunning.

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All the work, all the money, all the hype, seven wonder of the world… It’s worth it all. Machu Picchu is amazing.

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Back down Huayna Picchu we explore the grounds. There is so much to say, I’ll keep it short and let the pictures speak. One thing you should do is hire a guide, for a couple hours. Well worth the $10 each.

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Only in habited for 90 years, much of Machu Picchu is unfinished. These 3 windows, were for the Condor (sky), Puma (earth), and Snake (ground). You can see the precision and scale of Inca building.

 

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The terraces of Machu Picchu were not used for growing food. Instead they grew Coca. Prized throughout the Inca Empire.
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How to keep the jungle from encroaching? A team of 16 llamas patrols the terraces keeping the grass cut.
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The classic view of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu from the Watchtower Hut

Reversing our course, we head back to Cusco and have 3 days to explore the city. Cusco is one of the best cities we’ve seen. We loved it. 7½ months in, we’ve seen a lot, Cusco is unlike anywhere we’ve been so far. It’s got a great vibe, really nice people and a very unique history. Plus some very special shopping, but we’ll get to that later. The central square, Plaza De Armas, is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s beautiful at night.

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First day in Cusco, what’s on tap? Cuy of course! Following a few local tips, Dan drags Kristin 45 minutes outside the city to Tipon, the cuy jump off for locals. Getting a very local experience, this was a fun adventure for us. What is cuy?

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Guinea Pig! Plucked of hair and stuffed with local mountain herbs, they then get roasted in an oven for an hour. Delicious, at least in Dan’s opinion, they taste like fatty rabbit.

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In our experience, one of the best ways to see a city is by taking a walking tour. Most of the tours we go for are free, where they ask you to tip the guide at the end. In Cusco, we were the only ones who showed up for the afternoon tour. A private tour for us! There is a ton of history in Cusco. It was the capital city for the Inca’s and their 3,000 mile empire stretched from Bogota, Colombia to Santiago, Chile.

The stone wall on the right has stood for over 1.000 years.
The stone wall on the right has stood for over 1.000 years.

Many buildings in Cusco are built on top of, or using stones originally cut by the Inca. When the Spanish conquered, they tore down many Inca palaces, and rebuilt their own palaces in their place, also known as churches.

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The jesuit church in the background was built with Inca stone.

The size and scale of their construction is the most amazing part. Hundreds of thousands of precisely cut stones are still found throughout the city.

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In our 7½ months we’ve seen a lot of junk. Many “local” souvenirs appear in lots of places and are made in China. We feel like we have very high standards for buying stuff. But in Cusco we went a little nuts, why? Alpaca. These high land animals are raised in the Andes of Peru and have been used for thousands of years to create soft and warm sweaters, jackets and hats. In Cusco however, the real attraction is Baby Alpaca. Baby Alpaca is actually juvenile alpaca, it’s the first shaving of their wool. Like a baby’s butt or petting a puppy it is unbelievably soft.

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Blarfs! This is Baby Alpaca blanket will set you back about $130.

Taking off, we pause to realize our next country is our last of the trip, Colombia.

Top 5 things to do in Cusco

  • Go to Machu Picchu, obviously
  • Have a sunset cocktail at dusk over Plaza de Armas
  • Gross out your friends and eat a guinea pig
  • Take a walking tour of the city and live the Inca past
  • Fondle some baby alpaca and buy as much as you can carry

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