One of the world’s most important archaeological sites; A tangible evidence of the urban Inca Empire at the peak of its power and achievement; A citadel of cut stone fit together without mortar so tightly that its cracks still can’t be penetrated even by a credit card!
Ruins lying on a high ridge surrounded on the three sides by the turbulent Urubamba River some 2000 ft below. Well, they are Cusco – the cultural centre of the Incas, and Machu Picchu – one of the Seven Wonders of the World. These are the two gems of Peru in South America, which placed the country high on the tourist map.
If a mix of culture and archaeology is your interest then this is a must-visit! Pack your stuff for a week’s adventure and if you are into trekking then pack along your hiking gear too.
Get yourself a Peruvian visa and once you have landed at Lima, the capital of Peru, you may take an hour flight to Cusco or if interested in seeing the countryside take a bus which drives you down to the town in 24 hours!
Cusco, which lies at an altitude of 3400 meters, is the erstwhile capital of the Incan Empire which was later occupied by the Spanish in the early 16th century. A centre of the Incan civilisation, even today a fusion of the Incan and the Spanish culture is very much evident in art and architecture of the city.
What To Do
Start with the Cusco city tour. The first visit should be to the Plaza de Arma, a beautiful city centre with the cathedral and Incan temples on the adjacent sides and a row of shops on the other two sides with a fountain and a statue at the centre adding to the town’s beauty.
The Lord of the Temblor’s Cathedral is a must-visit as it is mesmerising to see the whole church adorned in gold and silver!
The Koricancha temple which is adjacent to the cathedral is dedicated to the Sun God and this gives a glimpse of the religious beliefs and the engineering acumen of the Incas.
The Pisac traditional market, Tambomachay, Ollantaytambo village, Chinchero plaza, Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara are repositories of the Incan traditions and culture which takes the traveller directly to the 16th century.
To witness this spectacle, you have two options – either one has to take a train which is three hours of a breathtaking journey through the scenic Andes mountains or if time permits, trek for four days! In either case, you have to obtain a pass from the Government Culture Department as only 2500 people are allowed per day.
A huge complex of great magnitude, Machu Picchu, is a great engineering feat of the Incans who survived the constant seismic activities but not the bayonets of the Spaniards. The ruins are the only standing testimonies of the Inca’s greatness.
Where To Stay
Cusco provides for some good comfortable accommodations which suit any sort of wallet.
On the luxury side, the noteworthy hotels are: Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel is an essence of luxury and comfort in the heart of the Inca city. Built, in a colonial mansion of the XVI century, it displays several paintings of the Cuzco school, colonial sculptures and carvings that transport guests to the greatness of the time.
Hotel Monasterio, built as a monastery in 1592, retains the charm and ambience that has existed for centuries whilst boasting a reputation as one of the world’s finest hotels.
Apart from the luxurious and budget hotels, there are a host of backpacking hostels which rent a bed starting from $ 20 a night!
What To Eat
Visitors to Cusco have a huge array of restaurants and cafes at their disposal; eateries have sprouted up and most are clustered around the main drags leading from Plaza de Armas. Cheap eateries line the narrow length of Calle Procuradores, which leads off the Plaza de Armas across from the Compaea de Jesus church and is sometimes referred to as “Gringo Alley”. Many are pizzerias, as Cusco has become known for its wood-fired, crispy-crust pizzas.
Peru, being the number one food destination in South America, a journey to the country is incomplete if their favourite cuisines are not relished. Pollo a la Brasa, (black grilled chicken served with salad), Alpaca with Aguaymanto sauce (meat of Alpaca which belongs to the camel family), Pollo con Arroz (Chicken with rice) and Le Ceviche (fish served with lime sauce) with the famous Pisco Sour drink are the favourites among the locals and much craved for. So in Peru, you have no excuses for not tasting them.
This is one trip that’s refreshing in every single way!