After finishing up our time on the beaches of Chile, we were planning on simply catching a bus from Arica, Chile to Cusco, Peru. We had had lots of good experiences taking international busses across borders and figured the Chile-Peru crossing would be no different. Needless to say we were a little bummed when we learned no busses are allowed to cross from Chile to Peru. Instead we had to take a shared taxi for about 30 minutes from Arica to the Chilean exit where you get your exit stamp, then through about 10 minutes of no-man’s land to the Peruvian entrance, then to Tacna on the Peruvian side. From Tacna we caught a 5-ish hour bus to Arequipa, then another 10 hour overnight ride from Arequipa to Cusco.
So, getting to Cusco was pretty miserable, especially because Sarah came down with a terrible fever during the overnight portion of the bus ride, but in the end it was worth it.
Upon arriving in Cusco, we were instantly struck by the beauty of the historic town with its surrounding verdant mountains that seem to go on endlessly. The rich historical culture, the encompassing natural beauty, the many amazing restaurants and the overwhelming sea of tourist traps come together to create a unique and wonderful city. In all our travels, Cusco was one of our favorite towns.
Sitting in the hills directly above Cusco are the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman. The ruins are composed of some of the largest stones the Incas used in construction, and it’s mind-blowing to think about this ancient civilization moving these massive stone blocks into position and carving them all to fit perfectly together like a puzzle.
We arrived in Cusco on Sarah’s birthday and to celebrate we had booked 2 nights at a 5 star hotel with credit card points. After being in hostels and cheap hotels, the Palacio del Inka was a lavish treat. Not only was our room super luxurious, but to top it off they sent this birthday cake to our room along with a bottle of wine and a tray of appetizers as a birthday gift. If you’re ever in Cusco and have the money/points to blow, check out the Palacio del Inka.
Our first few days in Cusco before starting the Inca Trail would have been perfect except for the fact that Sarah was terribly sick. As I mentioned, it all started with a fever on the bus to Cusco and it continued with awful flu symptoms for all of the 4 days we spent there before starting our hike. Instead of exploring the beautiful city, she was forced to stay in bed in our hotel while I ran errands preparing for the trail. Her illness was so bad that we thought we might have to cancel the hike. Fortunately Sarah recovered just in time, and though she felt weak at the beginning of the trail, she was able to finish strong.
Our guide, Simon, instructing us on the art of coca leaf chewing. Coca leaves are green leaves from the coca plant and are chewed as a mild stimulant that help combat altitude sickness. The local porters and guides chew coca leaves nonstop and almost never drink water on the trail.
One of the nice things about Alpaca Expeditions, the company we chose to guide us on the trail, is that porters are included in the price of the trip. So we only had to carry our camera, water, and jackets.
After lunch on day 2 we had to make the steep ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the Inca Trail at 13,829 feet. This is the view looking back down into the valley where we had just had lunch.
Tent view from campsite number 2.
We had some truly amazing meals on the trail. Some of the best food we had during our entire trip was during the hike. This breakfast was ham and cheese omelettes, porridge, fried plantains, and toast.
Our campsite on day 3 was one of the most breathtaking locations I’ve been to. In Quechua it’s known as Phuyupatamarca, which translates to “place in the clouds.” I couldn’t think of a more perfect name.
Morning view on day 4.We were shocked to walk into the dining tent and see this beauty on the table. Wilbur, the chef, cooked this incredible cake out in the wild with no oven. We really were blown away by the quality of the food on the trail.
p.s. prepare yourself for loads of Machu Pichu selfies.
After briefly visiting the site in the afternoon of Day 4, we spent the night in Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of the valley below Machu Picchu. The next morning we woke up early and returned to spend a few hours exploring the ruins.
Temple of the Condor. The condor was a sacred animal to the Incas. It’s a little tough to make out, but this stone formation is supposed to represent a condor. The head and beak is at the bottom with the wings of stone stretching up behind it.
The plaque on the left honors Hiram Bingham, the controversial discoverer of Machu Picchu. The simple stone on the right is a tip of the hat to Melchor Ortega, the local Quechuan who lived at the site and showed it to Bingham.
With our Inca Trail trip complete, we caught the train back towards Cusco where we would spend a few more days before moving on to Arequipa.
Inside the Qurikancha. This temple in Cusco was the most important in all the Inca empire. It’s walls were once plated in gold, but the Incas were forced to strip the walls to pay a ransom to the Spanish for the release of their leader, Atahualpa.
The underpinnings of Incan architecture. The Incas built with interlocking stones to add strength to their walls. In many cases, Inca walls stand solid where Spanish walls, built on top of the Inca walls, have long since crumbled.
Yours in Adventure,
Sarah + Denny
Up next: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon.
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