|The view during our flight from Lima.|
|Can you see the 12 corners?|
|View of the colonnades and the courtyard of the Convent of Santo Domingo.|
After visiting all the main sites of downtown Cuzco, head over to Kusikuy for local Peruvian fare, such as the infamous cuy (guinea pig).
From Cuzco, we hired a driver from KB Tours to take us to our hotel in the Sacred Valley. We decided to make optional excursion stops along the way. We drove by the small Andean mountain village of Chinchero. There are beautiful views overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas, with the Cordillera Vilcabamba and the snow-capped peak of Salkantay dominating the western horizon. Chinchero is believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow. The village mainly comprises of mud brick (adobe) houses, and locals still go about their business in traditional dress. The most striking remnant of this period is the massive stone wall in the main plaza which has ten trapezoidal niches. The construction of the wall and many other ruins and agricultural terraces (which are still in use) are attributed to Inca Tupac Yupanqui who possibly used Chinchero as a kind of country resort.
Moray is an archaeological site approximately 31 miles northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 11,500 feet and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is nearly 100 feet deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 27 °F between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops, sort of like an Inca agricultural experiment station.
|A wild alpaca. Look at all that hair!|
Machu Picchu, the most recognizable symbol of the Incan Empire, is open year-round, but there are two things you can't count on: dry weather and thin crowds. It can rain anytime, though officially, October to April is the rainy season. And while peak season is July/August, you should always expect crowds. The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since then, Machu Picchu has become the largest tourist attraction in South America.
|Our VistaDome train.|
|View of the river through the valley from our VistaDome train window.|
|Locals selling flowers along the train tracks.|
Unless you want to do the steep, 90-minute walk from Aguas Calientes to the citadel, buses are your only option to get to the main entrance of Machu Picchu. They operate every few minutes starting at 5:30 a.m., and people start lining up well before that. The line to catch the bus back will be long and packed with tour groups, so be patient.
Be sure to bring water, snacks, and a rain jacket, even if it looks like a beautiful day. We explored Machu Picchu ourselves with just a detailed guidebook, but there are many local guides for hire at the entrance which may be able to add extra local perspective, as well as all the historical, architectural, and biological info.
For more Cuzco eats check out my restaurant reviews. Staying in the Sacred Valley was jaw dropping and climbing Machu Picchu was an amazing experience. Have you visited Cuzco before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!