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Sacred Valley – Tipon

On our last day in Cuzco we decided to visit the Inca site of Tipon, located 14 miles from the city. As we didn’t want to do a tour we decided to take a collectivo instead. The journey lasted around an hour and a half and cost us just over 1 sole each. The collectivo however, only goes as far as the entrance to the town, from here it would be a good 2 hour walk as it’s all uphill, so we opted for a taxi at a cost of 5 soles.

The road to the site is currently under renovation so the taxi dropped us off at the old Inca trail. This is a steep stepped climb of around 45 minutes to get to the actual site. Despite the hard climb it is worth it for the views.

Tipon - Inca ruins - steep step climb

Tipon - Inca ruins - landscape views

Tipon itself is a beautiful site filled with farming terraces, long staircases and water channels carved in bare stone.

Tipon - Inca ruins - stairs between terraces

Each level has pretty ornamental waterfalls and towards the top there is a main waterfall from where the large water system starts. Apparently, Tipon is the largest and most complete Inca hydraulic system currently known.

Tipon - Inca ruins - the aqueduct

The site is large enough to easily spend a couple of hours walking around, and if you’re up for it you can also hike further up the hill to the Pitopuqyo cemetery.

Tipon - Inca ruins - terraces and overview

To save money we walked back to the main junction which took us about 45 minutes. Once at the Pan-American you can get on pretty much any collectivo as they all seem to head towards Cusco. However, they have different drop off points, so its worth asking before getting on board.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sacred Valley – Chinchero

On our way back to Cuzco from Ollantaytambo we decided to pay Chinchero a visit. We took a collectivo from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba for 1.50 soles each, at Urubamba we changed for a bus heading to Cuzco, via Chinchero for 5 soles each.

The views on the way to Chinchero are spectacular, with beautiful green and snow-capped mountains surrounding the landscape. When we arrived in Chinchero we felt like we were the only ones there. The bus dropped us off just outside the steep entrance to the town and until we arrived at the ticket check-point we saw no-one. Even once inside the pretty old stone-walled town we must have come across maybe 4-6 other tourists.

The site is made up of 2 sections, the old church and plaza and the ruins just behind. Again you are surrounded with beautiful landscapes and peace and quiet, it really feels like time has stopped in this little town.

Chinchero - main plaza

Chinchero - landscape panorama

We were lucky enough to arrive at lunch as we discovered that the church only opens from 1pm to tourists. The interior of the church is beyond words, photography is not allowed but I guarantee it will leave you with your jaw hanging. The whole interior is made of wood, but almost every single surface from wall to roof beam is hand painted with natural dye and the details that still remain to this day are beyond impressive.

Chinchero - church

Chinchero - bell tower and plaza with museum in the background

The town also has a little museum which is not included in the tourist ticket but makes for an interesting visit just to see how many intact ceramics were found at the site, including enormous water jugs.

Chinchero museum - huge ceramic water jugs

Chinchero also seems to be a textile center for the area and there are many good bargains to be had. However, if you are looking for a scenic place to relax for an afternoon then Chinchero is definitely the place!

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Machu Picchu

As we didn’t want to do the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu as part of a tour we decided to travel independently. We travelled by bus and collectivos from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo and after spending the day at the site we took the evening train straight to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the bottom of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu site with Wayna Picchu and Urubamba river

You have a couple of options for making your way to Mach Picchu, the first and most obvious is via a tour agency, the second is by tourist train from either Cuzco or Ollantaytambo and the third option is to make it as far as Santa Marta by bus, then take the hydroelectric train to just outside Aguas Calientes and walk for a couple of hours to the town. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes so you have to take the train one way or another, which is why it is so expensive.

Prices start from $35 to over $150 one way, depending from where you start your journey and the class of train you take. One thing to note is that they do not allow you to take backpacks on board the train, despite the fact that the Explorer train has racks for luggage storage. You are limited to small day-pack sizes per person of no more than a few kgs.

The town of Aguas Calientes is solely catered to tourism and is not worth spending time in. There are numerous places to stay in for all different budgets, with the cheaper options being located on the way up the hill to the thermal pools. The restaurants all offer pretty much the same food, however, if you opt for a “tourist menu” then calculate an additional cost of anywhere between 15% – 20% being added for tax, which they do not advertise.

To get to Machu Picchu you have 2 options, you can hike up for free which will probably take a good 2 hours or you can take the bus which leaves more or less every 5 minutes and takes 10 minutes. The cost for the ticket is around 23 soles one way per person and if you want to save money you can always opt to walk back down instead which takes about an hour.

The entry to the site costs 128 soles per person and the ticket is valid for 1 day only. If you want to climb Wayna Picchu too there is an additional cost to pay. Tickets are bought in the main plaza in town, not at the site entrance. There is a policy of no food to the site but if you take a small backpack they wont check it, and I would recommend taking snacks at the very least as the food at the small shop has extortionate prices, think 10 soles for a bottle of water! Just make sure you take your rubbish back out with you as there are no bins inside.

We spent the whole day at the site and managed to see pretty much everything, although we didn’t opt to climb Wayna Picchu. Instead we climbed to Inti Pukku, the entrance gate for the Inca trail, which provides amazing views and is at pretty much the same height as Wayna Picchu – except it’s free to do!

Machu Picchu overview from Inti Pukku Inca gate

Machu Picchu birds eye view from Inti Pukku

The site tends to get very crowded, so to avoid hoards of people try to visit early in the morning. If you are going to climb either Wayna Picchu or to Inti Pukku try to do it before lunch time as the temperatures get very hot.

Machu Picchu site and Wayna Picchu mountain

The site has plenty of areas for you to relax in, from terraces to covered benches if it rains and the views from the side terraces of the river below are pretty impressive!

Machu Picchu view of Urubamba river from terraces

Machu Picchu is definitely a worth-while place to visit once in your lifetime, but unfortunately the Peruvian authorities know this and charge very high prices for you to be able to take advantage of it.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sacred Valley – Ollantaytambo

We decided to visit Machu Picchu by ourselves, instead of joining a tour and therefore headed out from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo. We took a collectivo from Cuzco to Urubamba for 4 soles each. From Urubamba we took a taxi collectivo to Ollantaytambo for 3 soles each.

Our plan was to take the train to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo that evening, leaving us with the whole afternoon to grab lunch, look at the site and book ourselves a hostel for our return.

The collectivo dropped us off at the train station so we left our backpack in storage for free until that evening. Heading up towards the plaza we found a nice hostel called Calicanto and booked ourselves in for our return. We walked a little further up and found a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, so far so good!

After a filling lunch we went and did a full tour of the Ollantaytambo site. The site is built across 2 adjoining mountain sides which offer views across the mountains.

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - landscape and view down from terrace

One thing we noticed is that most of the tours that came and went only did a small part of the site, which is a shame because the right hand side has a lovely corridor built into the rock face along with a restored house showing how the area would have looked back in the Inca times.

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - view from path on a side of slope

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - houses on the slope of mountain

At the base of the site you can find some ruins including fountains, aqueducts and houses. Also from the entrance you really get an idea of just how large the site must have been.

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - overview

Ollantaytambo - Inca ruins - view down onto the city and the valley

We were extremely lucky because as we started to head out of the site, after a couple of hours of roaming around, it started to rain! Perfect timing…

We spent the last couple of hours in a cafe waiting for it to stop raining, before heading out through the cobbled streets of the town for a short tour of the town.

Ollantaytambo - cobbled streets with Inca walls similair in character to Cuzco

We then grabbed dinner and headed off to catch our evening train to Machu Picchu.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman

On our last day in Cuzco, before heading into the Sacred Valley, we decided to go and see the nearby archaeological sites of Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman.

The sites are located one after another and can easily be seen in a day. We took the collectivo for Pisaq and asked to be dropped off at Tambomachay, the furthest site from Cuzco. The collectivo cost us 3.50 soles each and took about 15 minutes.

Once at the site we bought our tourist ticket for 128 soles each. The ticket is valid for 10 days and allows you entry to all the marked sites in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. You cannot pay for each site entry individually, you either take the full ticket for all sites or choose between a city tour ticket or a Sacred Valley ticket, each for 70 soles.

Tambomachay consists of 2 main areas; the top with aqueducts and farming terraces and at the bottom a main fountain with 2 channels that were used as ceremonial streams.

Tambo Machay - Inca ruins

Across the road lies the site of Puka Pukara, formerly a military control post and sleeping quarters for the entourage of the Incas. Although a very small site nowadays, the views are beautiful. You can see across the landscape from the former control tower and across to the site of Tambomachay.

Puka Pukara - Inca ruins - overview

Puka Pukara - Inca ruins - landscape views

From here we jumped onto a collectivo heading back to Cuzco and paid 1 sole each to be dropped off at the next site, Q’enqo.

Q'enqo - Inca ruins - overview

When you first arrive at the site it seems like nothing more than some large rocks and a couple of small rooms. However, as you start to walk around and indeed from the top of the site you get a really good view of just how big and important this had been. In fact the site used to be an amphitheater with underground galleries for ceremonial purposes, including an altar.

Q'enqo - Inca ruins - inside the ceremonial chamber, altar on the left

From Q’enqo we walked about 15 minutes to the last site, Sacsayhuaman or Saqsaywaman, depending on your origins. For me this is the most impressive of the 4 sites. Built over 77 years the gigantic fortress walls consist of almost megalith stones which fit together without any need for mortar. In fact the precision with which they fit together is truly impressive, especially when you consider the largest weighs 70 tons!

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - the walls with Cuzco in the background

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - the walls close up

The site consists of 2 sides and you can walk through some of still standing doorways up to the top terrace which offers views across the city of Cuzco.

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - main plaza

Sacsayhuaman - Inca ruins - landscape view with the walls

You can add a final site to your itinerary for free, the white Christ (Cristo Blanco). This is a statue that sits atop a hill opposite Sacsayhuaman and again offers visitors views across the city. As the weather was turning we skipped this and instead followed the path back down to Cuzco.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Cuzco

I had fond memories of Cuzco (Cusco in Spanish) as I had visited this beautiful UNESCO city back in 2008 and I was looking forward to seeing it again.

We arrived on an overnight bus from Arequipa and had pre-booked 2 nights at the Samay Wasi hostel, located at the top end of the San Blas area. The nice touch was that they picked us up at 5am from the bus station and gave us a free breakfast upon arrival. As our room wouldn’t be ready for a few hours they even let us freshen up in a dorm area.

The staff was really lovely and even had our backpacks waiting for us in the room once it was ready. However, once we checked in to our room the lovely surprises ended. It was freezing in the room and at night despite the heavy blankets we had to go to bed virtually clothed to try to stay warm. There were no heating facilities anywhere in the hostel, even the common areas, and after our pre-booked 2 days there we were happy to move.

We found Samanapata Backpackers located a few roads down, closer to the San Blas plaza. Not only was it cheaper and warmer but the location was much better. We had numerous restaurants on our doorstep, including several cheap vegetarian places. In fact it actually worked out cheaper to have the set menus than to cook!

In total we spend 8 days in Cuzco, 6 days to see to the city and the nearby Inca sites and a further 2 days when we returned from Machu Picchu.

Cuzco - road to San Pedro market

Cuzco itself has not really changed much since my last visit. It is still as beautiful. The roads around the historic center are cobbled and lined with old Inca walls which now form the foundations of the new hotels, restaurants and numerous other buildings. There are pretty plazas dotted throughout the city and an array of places to eat to suit every palate.

Cuzco - one of the cobbled-streets

Cuzco - famous Inca wall

As for the Plaza de Armas, it is still as breathtaking as ever. Surrounded by the impressive cathedral, churches and arcades it is a hotspot for tourists and locals alike to relax on the benches or have a drink at one of the beautifully carved wooden balconies overlooking the plaza.

Cuzco - Plaza de Armas

Cuzco - La Compania de Jesus on Plaza de Armas

Cuzco - Plaza de Armas at night

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pisco, Ballestas Islands and Tambo Colorado

We took an overnight bus with Cruz del Sur, as they were running a promotion, from Trujillo and arrived in Pisco the next morning with no idea as to where to go. The first surprise was that the bus left us on the Pan-American outside Pisco, instead of dropping us off in town. We later learned that this apparently is the norm with every bus company.

We weren’t sure how to proceed and luckily saw a couple who were waiting for an onward bus, so I headed over to ask for advise. They were nice enough to not only tell us the prices of the taxis but to also recommend the hotel they had stayed in. Armed with the information we took a taxi and headed into town to look for somewhere to stay.

The first thing that hits you when you enter the town is how much destruction is still visible following the earthquake of 2007, where buildings once stood there are now pile of rubble or flat patches of land and roads are still obstructed with piles of bricks and building materials. Despite this you can also see how tourism is helping re-build the town as hotels seem to rise up from the rubble.

We drove around for a while and looked at a couple of places, but in the end settled on our suggestion, Hotel Residential San Jorge, as they offered the best price despite seemingly being a 3 star hotel. We were repeatedly advised not to go out at night as the town is not overly safe, and as such we headed out for a late lunch and to book a tour for the following day.

Pisco itself is not much more than a base for the nearby attractions, including the Ballestas Islands and the archaeological site of Tambo Colorado. After some negotiating we managed to book ourselves in for a morning tour of the islands followed by a private afternoon tour of Tambo Colorado, for 80 soles each. When you book the island tour you can opt to also do a tour of the Paracas National Reserve, but we decided to skip this.

At 7.30am the next day we were picked up and driven down to the town of Paracas, the launch off point for Ballestas Islands. After a quick registration and paying the 6 soles each for entry we were off by speed boat to the islands.

Before reaching the islands the tour stops at a nearby shore where the “Candelabra”, a large cactus shape is engraved in the sandy banks, similar to those of the Nazca lines. There are many theories on the origin and meaning, but the most impressive fact is that due to the extremely low annual rainfall, the shape has remained almost intact.

Paracas - Candelabra - pattern similar to Nazca Lines

As you approach the islands you start to see why they are such an attraction. There are literally thousands of birds flying around, from Peruvian pelicans to Peruvian boobies to Guano Cormorants. Everywhere you look there are clouds of birds around you. However, the islands are also home to penguins and sea lions and we were lucky enough to spot a lone endangered South American fur seal on the rocks.

Islas Ballestas - flocks of birds

Islas Ballestas - Peruvian boobies resting on rocks

Islas Ballestas - penguins

Islas Ballestas - sea lions

Islas Ballestas - South American fur seal

After our tour we were dropped off back in Pisco and grabbed a quick lunch before our next tour to Tambo Colorado.

Located 48km from Pisco, Tambo Colorado is supposedly one of the best preserved Inca sites along the coast of Peru. This is again due to the extremely low rain fall which has helped to not erode it.

Tambo Colorado - front facade overview

Tambo Colorado - view from above

Although not very big, the site is impressive due to the fact the walls have retained some of their original paint work. As you wander around from chamber to chamber you can still see the reds, oranges and whites that were once used to paint these walls.

Tambo Colorado - visible original colours

Tambo Colorado - one of the rooms with preserved coloured wall

Another impressive sight at Tambo Colorado is the women’s bath which is still almost entirely intact. You can still see where they would have heated the water and then poured it through into the bath. The original irrigation system is still very much in order.

Tambo Colorado - baths

You wont need more than an hour maximum at the site, including a quick look through the small museum, but it is worth seeing for the fact that it is still very much as it was during the Inca times.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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