Machu Picchu trip and the Inca experience in CuscoVisitors come to Peru for many, many reasons, but the site that tops every list of “Must Do’s” is a visit to Machu Picchu. Even if you are, like me, an “off the beaten track” kind of traveler and prefer to avoid the tourist spots and crowds, the mysterious lost city of the Incas beckons. So, ignore the tales of crowds, lines, train and entrance fees and include this wonder of the world in your itinerary.
A trip to Machu Picchu does not start at the entrance gate above Aguas Calientes. Instead think of it as an Inca experience, beginning in Cusco, a high altitude city far up in the Andes. This was the capital of the Inca kingdom and today is a vibrant city from where you can follow the Inca’s trail till the time of their conquest by the Spaniards. I spent several days exploring the ruins inside and outside the city, sampling the wonderful sweet tamales, and shopping in the wonderful ‘mercado’ and craft shops. In order to adjust to the high altitude I took the first day very slowly, huffing and puffing my way along the streets. I am a great believer in coca tea as a way to combat altitude sickness.
Visiting the Temple of the Sun was for me a bittersweet experience as it was crystal clear how a powerful culture could dominate and erase evidence of a less powerful civilization: the Spanish took over the site of the great Inca Temple and built their cathedral squarely on top of it!
I visited Sacsayhuaman, a short ride from Cusco, in order to continue to create anticipation for Machu Picchu. It is a marvel of engineering and ingenious warfare and I enjoyed the chance to leave the hustle of the city and visit this large and somewhat rural site. I took a wonderful half-day trip to the Salinas de Maras, an astonishing and ancient series of salt pools, and Moray, an ancient and ingenious Inca agricultural seed growing site. On a different day, I went to Tipon and at my return to Cusco I tried a street-side restaurant famous for chicharrones!
There are several museums in Cusco, but my favorite is the Museo de Pisco, not really a museum at all, but a great pisco bar where the barmen taught me all I needed to know about the local Peruvian brandy. Actually, a real and little known museum is the Museo de Plantas Sagradas, Magicas y Medicinales: a lovely building with an extensive display of the history and uses of coca. I discovered many interesting things about Coca Cola that I had not known before: for example, did you know that the shape of the bottle is taken from the coca seed and that the logo colors represent the colors in the Peruvian flag? A free taste of tea in the quiet courtyard ended my trip.
If you can, take a bus to Ollyantantambo and then catch the train to Aguas Calientes. Ollantaytambo was my next stop in my quest for the Incas. The water system was built by the Incas and many houses and apartments were once Inca homes and palaces. The town isn’t very big so I was able to wander the narrow streets without getting lost. I was lucky enough to be there in mid-May during the celebration for the town’s patron saint: the main square was full of dancers (all local) and bands dressed in the local costumes. There also was a bullfight in the town’s bullring, which was unfortunate for the bull because this was a deadly fight and the bull was not the winner!
Then it was time to go to Machu Picchu! Some people walk the Inca Trail or the less travelled Salkantay trail but this was not for me! I enjoyed the panoramic cars of the extremely expensive (but well worth the price) train that wind through the valley of the Incas. I chose to arrive in Aguas Calientes in the afternoon and stay in the bustling little town, listening to the roar of the Urambamba River and talking to other tourists about their experiences, because I wanted to be at the gates of the great site very early the following morning. Some people choose to walk up the steep hill to the site but I took the first bus at around 6:00 am. Yes there are crowds. But the air is slightly chilled, the mist, the rays of the sun and the perfectly placed monuments peaking through the glowing dawn make it magical. It was easy for me to find a quiet spot and absorb it all. I decided to take a tour in the morning so that I could learn about the history and understand the highlights and then wander all afternoon on my own. I took a private tour and the guide was very knowledgeable and I was glad I spent the time and the money. I visited all the main sites and then in the afternoon I went to the less visited places and found many spots where I could be by myself and bask in the atmosphere. I loved touching the stones and trying to “feel” their history.
That evening I stayed in Aguas Calientes and returned to Cusco the following day, but many people hopped on the afternoon train (having made reservations well in advance) and was back in Cusco the same evening.
For me, Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu are all part of one great adventure in the Inca world.
Caral: the oldest city of the Americas!A visit to Caral with Perú InsideOut will bring you back in time almost 5000 years, to the time of the pyramids. Caral, 200 kilometers north of modern Lima, was the seat the most ancient civilization in all of the Americas and was only discovered 19 years ago, surprising the world with its complexity and architecture.
Caral thrived in South America whilst the Chinese, Egyptian, Indian and Mesopotamian cultures were flourishing around 5000 years ago and has been named a “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
Our tour to Caral will give you an insight into the first American settlement of over 3,000 people with religion at its center. You will be able to appreciate the hierarchical organization of this civilization when admiring their pyramids, temples and ordinary houses. Strolling through the archaeological sites and buried buildings you will be able to appreciate the sophistication of these people who built their city in the knowledge that the area was prone to earthquakes. You will see evidence of cotton growing and looking across the plain towards the sea you will wonder how the people of Caral managed to trade their goods with fishermen some 25 kilometers away.
The site is well marked with easy-to-follow paths, signage and a small canteen. Your Perú InsideOut guide will help you discover Caral’s secrets.
This is a “new” archeological site, only recently opened to the public and your tour will give you a chance to see something relatively few visitors to Peru have seen in the past: the first in the Americas!
Puno and CandelariaFor most of the year Puno is southern Peruvian city best known as the gateway to Lake Titicaca. But in February of every year (2nd of February is the main celebration day), Puno becomes the city to visit for Candelaria, the feast of the Virgin of the Candle, Puno’s patron saint. This city devoted to being at the service of tourists who come to visit Lake Titicaca and the floating islands turn itself inside out for this holy Peruvian celebration.
We visited Puno for our holiday in 2013, not knowing quite what to expect and were overwhelmed by the exuberance of the festival. For three days the city is filled with dancers and musicians from all over South America celebrating the Christian symbol of the Virgin Mary with a colourful and wonderful combination of native, modern and fantastic costumes parading and dancing through the streets. From 6 am well into the night the dancers and musicians parade the streets following no discernible route, performing intricate routines or just marching to the music, stopping now and then to have a photo taken by an interested bystander.
Imagine men in highland garb marching to the sound of highland pipes followed by a band of horns and at least 8 bass drums with drummers whaling away with all their strength providing music for scantily dressed beautiful bespangled women in high, high heeled boots, followed by a group of gorillas and African chieftains not to be outdone by men in high boots covered with bells in bright satin costumes.
Tickets can be purchased for performances in the stadium, but we didn’t bother, the street scene being quite enough. We followed the music, stopping every now and then to sample the street food, take photos with the marchers, buy a bottle of beer when thirsty and purchase flower petals to throw at the dancers at night.
On the second day various streets were decorated with sand drawing and at night the statue of the Virgin was taken from the main church and marched down the street in a solemn and glorious procession.
If you go be aware of several things: Puno in is cold and rainy and you need to dress accordingly; the 2nd of February is the best; be prepared to get up early and go to bed late although the choice is yours and you won’t be disturbed if you choose to get up late or go to bed early, and there is no published schedule of events; be prepared to “go with the flow”, drinking, singing and dancing wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Combine this with a visit to the Uros Islands and you will truly have a unique experience.
Salkantay Trek vs Inca TrailSalkantay Trek or Inca Trail: The Road Less Travelled or the Royal Trail?
The Incas used many trails to approach their most revered site, Machu Picchu and you too have alternatives to the most well known, the Royal Road of the Incas. Have you considered the Salkantay Trek? Let us compare the two.
Build 500 years ago, the Salkantay Trek is more challenging than the Inca Trail. The 62 km trek can be done in the recommended 5 days or 4 days if you are short of time. This trek is longer than the 43 km Inca trail and you Do Not need a permit in advance for the trek as you do for the Inca trail. You must book the Inca Trail trek at least 3 months in advance and can expect no refunds or flexibility if you need to make changes. This is a very crowded and regulated trek with over 200 people on the trail at any given time – a veritable royal highway! The Salkantay Trek is the road less travelled and less crowded – more difficult and wilder. You will have a chance to admire stunning views of the Salkantay and Humantay glaciers, view the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu and relax at the Santa Teresa hot springs. This trail is different than the Inca Trail: the only ruin you will see along the way is Llactapata, and rather than hiking into Machu Picchu through the Inti Punti you will arrive in Aguas Caliente and have the opportunity to take the bus to the ruins or walk the path at a time of your choosing. While this might deter some from this trek the compensations are: fewer trekkers, more time to meet the locals and a more undiluted trekking experience. There are very basic facilities with basic or no toilet facilities and cold or no shower facilities.
Salkantay Trek (4 days)
Inca Trail (4 days)
Degree of difficulty : Very Challenging: Wilderness camping
Degree of difficulty : Challenging: Not technical; many staircases
Length of the Trek: 62 Km (38.5 miles)
Length of the Trek: 41.5 Km (26 miles)
Max. altitude: 4.640 (15.215 feet)
Max. altitude pick: 4.200 (13.800 feet)
Number of trekkers on the trail Approx. 40
Number of trekkers on the trail: Approx. 200
Main attractions: Views of the Humantay and Salkantay glaciers – Llactapata archaeological ruins and views of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary
Main attractions: Archaeological Inca ruins Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna and entry to Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
Facilities: Showers in the campsite with only cold water; basic or no toilets
Facilities: No showers available; toilettes in all campsites.
Amazing Peru Tour VideoDear travelers, Let me introduce you our Amazing Peru Tour Video. The video showcases the highlights of our Amazing Peru Tour:
Amazing Peru Tour
We take this occasion to send our greetings to all our past and future travelers, and we hope you enjoy the video.
Our Amazing Peru Tour will make you discover the wonders of this enchanting country – Peru. Marvel at the most incredible architectural sites in Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Witness the ethnicity of Lake Titicaca. Face the enigmatic geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines. Enjoy the wild nature and bird watching in Paracas. Visit Arequipa with its colonial architecture and its majestic volcanoes. Forget the stress on Colca Canyon with its breathtaking views. Lima and its Museo Larco Herrera will give you a touch of this unique cosmopolitan city. Finally, we will bring you to the exuberant Amazon rainforest in Puerto Maldonado and the Tambopata National Park: a piece of heaven on earth! Roberto D’Amico
Inti Raymi FestivalThe sun has been the object of worship among the people of the Andes since time immemorial.
This devotion reached its zenith, quite possibly, during the Inca empire – to the point that their religious system was based on a worship of the sun.
“Inti Raymi” comes from the Quechua language and means “resurrection of the sun”. It was the largest and most important celebration during the Inca Empire.
The Inti Raymi was a celebration marked by a great abundance of eating and drinking, thanking the sun for the latest harvest and asking for prosperity in future harvests.
Other aspects of this celebration included a Recognition of Gratitude to the deity who, according to the Inca belief system, allowed for the existing life order, and honouring the memory of the first Incas and the fact that they were under the protection of the sun to create a focal point for the civilization.
According to some chroniclers, the Inti Raymi lasted approximately one month – between May and June – but others say that it lasted between 8 and 9 consecutive days, without interruption.
Regardless, the Inti Raymi wasn’t always held in Cuzco; the celebration could have taken place in any other city in the empire, depending on the Inca’s location.
Divided by strict social differences, all the nobility of the empire had to be present during the Inti Raymi. Also, a rigorous fast was imposed three days before celebrations began. Sexual contact and the lighting of fire were also forbidden.
After the Spanish conquest, the Inti Raymi was banned by the Catholic Church. In 1942, however, the Inti Raymi celebration was finally resurrected and adopted by ordinary people, becoming a popular Peruvian festival.
The Inti Raymi has evolved, though, and now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world. It is held annually on June 24th, between Cusco and the archaeological complex of Saqsayhuaman.
Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) – One day programme 24 JuneIn the morning after breakfast time, you are going to be transferred to the Koricancha Temple. The ceremony begins with the procession of The Sapa Inca and her wife carried in litters, while his court and noble Incas follow them towards the famous Huacaypata (Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas). Ethnic music is performed all along the procession.
Coming from the Avenida del Sol to the Plaza de Armas, The Inca meets Cuzco’s Mayor. This act is called The “Two Worlds Meeting”. This part of the ceremony lasts about one hour.
From the Plaza de Armas, you will be then transferred to the Saqsayhuaman archaeological complex, where the Sun celebration begins. This part of the Inti Raymi lasts approximately one hour and a half hour (assigned tickets must be bought in advance). At this point, The Sapa Inca will give a speech in Quechua, their ancestral Inca´s language, followed by various traditional rituals. Every year this festivity is followed by over 4000 spectators.
During the celebration at the Saqsayhuaman complex a lunch box will be provided. At the end of the ceremony you will return to your Hotel in Cusco.