Peru Machu Picchu
TRAVEL : QUIXO PERU : Favorite Places in Peru

CUZCO, MACHU PICCHU, URUBAMBA VALLEY & SURROUNDING AREAS

Your Guide: Catherine Criolla
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Wandering around Cuzco is a treat. There are Inca walls and pseudo-Inca walls everywhere. Have refreshments and shop on the Plaza de Armas, and see the churches and museums on your tourist ticket as your interest dictates. The Inca ruins close to Cuzco: Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambo Machay are also enjoyable and interesting. If you are a walker, you can take the bus out and walk all or part of the way back to Cuzco.

Preliminaries:

  1. Get ahold of Peter Frost's Exploring Cusco which includes maps of sites, lists of buildings with Inca walls in Cuzco, plus sites along the Inca Trail, etc. Note that it can be hard to find in the U.S., but you can usually find it in most of the little librerias (book stores) and tourist-oriented shops around the Plaza de Armas (main square) in Cuzco.
  2. Consider the altitude. Read sections on health in guidebooks like Footprint Peru Handbook, (if you are particularly worried about the altitude, and if you will be hiking or climbing at very high altitude, take a look at High Altitude Illness & Wellness by Charles S. Houston). Take it easy, drink lots of water and/or herb tea (mate de coca really does help). Before going to Peru, talk with your doctor and, if appropriate, get a prescription of Diamox or similar, which helps some people significantly. Go slow during the first day or so, even if you are feeling pretty good. Cuzco is hilly so consider taking taxis up the hills and walking down them. Also, keep covered up, wear a shade hat, and use sunscreen.

My top recommendations for Cuzco and vicinity

  1. The Coricancha (Santo Domingo) — A major sacred center of the Inka world that was turned into a church by the Spanish. Recent earthquakes have destroyed much of the Spanish architecture, leaving the immense Inka walls intact. This is a great starting point for any visit to Cuzco.
  2. The archaeological museum (Museo Arqueologico de la Universidad San Antonio de Abad) — This museum requires a separate admission (i.e. is not on the blanket ticket required for the other main sites in Cuzco) but it contains fabulous and unique artifacts that you won't see on display elsewhere in Peru, including wooden Inka Keros (ceremonial drinking cups) and other relatively rare items.
  3. Sacsayhuaman — The famous site of some of the most massive Inka stonework, generally called a fortress in tourist literature.

Wandering around Cuzco is a treat. There are Inca walls and pseudo-Inca walls everywhere. Have refreshments and shop on the Plaza de Armas, and see the churches and museums on your tourist ticket as your interest dictates. The Inca ruins close to Cuzco: Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambo Machay are also enjoyable and interesting. If you are a walker, you can take the bus out and walk all or part of the way back to Cuzco.

In the Urubamba Valley
Don't miss Ollantaytambo and Pisac, and try to get to Chinchero. If you are especially interested in weaving, and in Andean textiles, Chinchero is the place. A woman named Nilda Callañaupa has set up a weaving cooperative in Chinchero that does demonstrations of traditional weaving for tour groups, so there are very well crafted textiles available for sale in Chinchero. The cooperative has now been expanded and even has a store in Cusco. This is something special to see.

For pottery lovers, go to the studio and store of Pablo Seminario in the town of Urubamba.

Of course, the reason most people travel to Peru is to see Machu Picchu. This is simply one of the world's great archaeological destinations. It is a wonderful site to visit and to explore, and it is well worth spending the night there, if at all possible.

IF you wish to get to Machu Picchu by hiking the Inca Trail keep in mind that doing the whole standard trip takes about 4 days. It is no longer possible to do this on your own, so it is not an inexpensive trip. Although hiking the Inca Trail is hardly a true wilderness experience (garbage and other evidence of hikers can be everywhere depending on the time of year) it is an incredible trip, and highly recommended.

ALSO
Southeast of Cuzco there are wonderful and unique ruins. Tipón (a great spot for a picnic), Pikillacta (a massive Wari site), and Rumicolla are all well worth a visit, as are many, many less accessible sites in the Cuzco region.

Transportation
You can hire a car and driver, take guided tours, or take buses, depending on your schedule and budget. Day trips and longer travel to areas outside of Cuzco can be arranged by travel agencies and some independent operators. There is a long list in the Footprint Peru Handbook.

Security
Follow advice in the guidebooks, and be particularly careful if you are arriving at night. Either arrange in advance to have someone pick you up, travel in a large group, or make extra sure that you are in a real taxi or bus service. It is not unheard of for thieves posing as taxi drivers to pick up tourists from the train station, bus terminal, or even the airport, and then rob them, sometimes violently, especially at night or in very early morning.

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