Hi everyone, we are finally posting about the things we did in Cusco, Peru (other than the trek to Machu Picchu obviously). We have not posted any blog posts due to very unreliable internet, and I also just haven’t really felt like writing. That being said, we have done a lot in the last 3 weeks or so, and have seen some amazing things! This should be the first of quite a few posts to come over the next few days as long as we have some time and the internet continues to work.
Free Walking Tour
Our first day in Cusco we decided to do a free walking tour of the city. We tend to always do the free walking tours we find, as they help us get better acquainted with the city, and we always learn more than we would just looking things up online! We decided to go with a company called Inkan Milky Way Cusco based on online reviews.
We met at Plaza El Regocijo to meet Inkan Milky Way Cusco, and it was very easy to find them. Our tour group was fairly large (20-30 people), and we all went around saying where we were from. Gerrod and I were the only people from the US in the whole group! Our guide led us around the central area of Cusco and discussed things regarding the history of Cusco and the Incas, the flora and fauna of Peru, and the Cusco flag.
The Cusco flag is literally a rainbow flag very similar to the LGBTQ flag, but with light blue as well. Our guide said he had been asked so many times about the flag or if gay pride is very important in Cusco.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire, and our guide showed us the many signs of the amazing Inca architecture throughout the city. The Incas made blocks perfectly fit together and didn’t use any cement between the stones to get them to fit. When the Spanish came in they wrecked many of the Inca buildings and built their own using the blocks.
The guide showed us some of the Spanish architecture at the Plaza De Armas/Plaza Mayor del Cusco where we had a great view of two different churches. The churches were beautiful! The difference between the Spanish architecture and Inca architecture was very apparent on the side streets. Our guide discussed that the Spanish tore down as many of the Inca structures as quickly as possible when they were conquering the city, and then later regretted it.
Apparently, there was an earthquake and all of the Spanish built buildings fell down, and the remaining Inca walls were still intact post earthquake. So, following that the Spanish started utilizing the Inca walls and just built their buildings on top of them!
Our guide also took us to Kusicancha, the only palace ruins left in Cusco. According to our guide, the word Inca actually refers to the ruler, and the common people were not called Incas. Each Inca (aka king) got their own palace and had very large families with many wives. There was evidence of many rooms in Kusicancha, and it was built in a grid-like pattern! The blocks fit perfectly together. I can’t imagine how they got the blocks that perfect, but our guide insisted it was not Aliens.
I highly suggest free walking tours for everybody in big cities.
A large statue of Jesus up on a hill is visible almost everywhere in Cusco. During our walking tour, our guide said it had a great view of the city. So a few days after our trek was over, Gerrod and I decided to walk up and get the views of the City. We looked at Maps.me and started the walk up.
It was 80,000 degrees outside, and we kept getting lost because there isn’t very good signage of the street names in Cusco (and much of South America from what we can tell so far). Luckily, some locals knew what we were doing and gave us directions. We got to a staircase that went up a lot of the hill and whew it was exhausting! Gerrod and I thought maybe walking uphill would be easier following the trek, but we seemed to still get very winded.
At the top there was a big ol’ Jesus statue, and some super cute llamas. The view of the city was incredible!
Sacsayhuamán, Q’Enqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay
After we went to Cristo Blanco, we headed to Sacsayhuamán, an ancient Inca fortress that is literally pronounced (Sex-ay-wo-man). We thought it would be free, but it turns out you needed a ticket, and they didn’t offer a ticket for just Sacsayhuamán, you had to buy a package. There were several options to choose from, and we just barely had enough cash for a partial ticket which included 3 more sites.
The ticket cost 70 soles each, and everything had to be visited in one day. Naturally we had to visit them all. We spent some time walking around Sacsayhuamán observing the interesting architecture. There were no signs explaining anything, so we didn’t really know what all we were looking at, but since we had seen so many other sites with a guide we got the general idea. I also pulled up with Wikipedia page on the site and read it so we knew more about what we were looking at.
The complex was huge! There were several walls and apparent guard towers with a large green space. Further north of the complex was an area with several rocks with squares cut out of them. It appeared to be where they “harvested” their rocks to use for the complex. There was also a rock with a smooth surface that was like a natural slide area where kids (and adults!) were sliding down the rocks.
I insisted Gerrod and I do it, and it was very steep and fast! Gerrod got going really fast! There were also some small caves that we walked through, although they smelled a bit like pee.
It was thundering a bit at the beginning of walking around Sacsayhuamán and we were afraid it was going to downpour, but luckily it only sprinkled a bit. After we were done exploring, we started our walk down the road to the next site, Q’Enqo. As we were walking into what appeared to be the entrance of the site, we got yelled at for walking through the exit even though there was no sign. The guard was very mad at us! Luckily we had already paid which helped us out a little bit.
Luckily this site had some signs explaining what we were looking at, or else it may have just looked like everything else we had already seen. This site was where they performed ancient rituals, potentially even human sacrifices!
The third site, Puka Pukara, was very far away and we weren’t sure how to get there. We tried to get an Uber, but that failed. We talked about walking, but it would apparently take an hour and a half of walking uphill along the road, which didn’t sound very fun. After not getting an Uber, and deciding we didn’t want to walk, we headed up to the road to wait in the area Maps.me claimed there was a bus stop (it didn’t look very much like a bus stop).
After waiting a bit, a Taxi pulled up and said he could take us there, but the price was double what it said the Uber would be! We almost tried bargaining with the Taxi driver, when a local bus pulled up! Woohoo thank you Maps.me! So we hopped on and saved a ton of money.
Puka Pukara, also known as “Red Fort” was a small fort with a beautiful view. They didn’t even check our ticket at the entrance, so I guess it was free.
Next we walked over to Tambomachay which was pretty much across the street. They checked our ticket, and we looked at some signage which made it seem like there were lots of paths to walk around, which later turned out to not be entirely true. Tambomachay was apparently a spa like fountain area used by the Inca/kings. We walked down the main pathway and stumbled upon an interesting fountain building. Here, there were a lot of paths that led away from the main area, but went nowhere. Oh well!
We went to the Maps.me bus stop, and hopped back on the local bus back to Sacsayhuamán. From there we walked back to the hostel, which was luckily down hill!
Maras Salt Mine and ATVs
I had ready about “Maras Moray” online and thought it looked interesting, so we booked a tour using the tour company in the lobby of the current party hostel we were staying in. The tour the agent said one of the best tours to Maras and Moray was an ATV tour which sounded super fun and different, so we booked it!
The tour that should have started at 7:15 am the following day with a hostel pick up, but it took awhile for them to show up and when they finally did, it was just a guy that led us to the main square. There, met up with the rest of the tour group which were all native Spanish speakers.
We hopped on a transport van and headed out to the ATV place! We then got a safety lesson on ATVs and a quick test drive; they were semi automatic, so they were manuals without the clutch.
We had the option to either go to a lagoon or to Moray (another Inca ruin). After learning that there was quite a costly entrance fee to get into Moray, we chose to do the lagoon instead which the rest of the group was doing as well. We all hopped on our ATVs and headed down the road to our first stop, Maras salt mine.
At the salt mine, one of our guides (who luckily spoke very good English!) taught us about the history of the place. There is a stream of salty water coming from the mountain, and they let it flow into separate pools and evaporate out the water to produce the salt! No one knows why the water is salty, but the owners of the mine don’t want to explore and accidentally contaminate the salt, so they just accept that it is awesome and don’t ask questions.
We then got some free time to explore and taste some chocolates made with the salt before hopping back on the ATVs and heading to Laguna de Huaypo. We rode through the countryside and I had a smile on my face the whole time! The lagoon was huge and beautiful, and we got a discussion on a local legend of the lagoon before driving the ATVs back to the garage and then headed back to Cusco.
Various other Cusco activities
We saw Mercado Central de San Pedro (San Pedro Market) during our free walking tour, and decided to come back to it later. The market was apparently designed by the person who designed the Eiffel Tower, but it wasn’t very obvious. The market was fairly large, and had all kinds of goods for cheap including clothes, candy, produce, meat, and meals, as long as you can haggle the places down from their foreigner prices. We bought coca candies for home, a magnet, earrings (because Lauren lost one of hers), and explored the market a bit. There were so many shops with all kinds of interesting things!
Our hostel owner in Lima suggested a restaurant in Cusco called La Cusqueñita. Gerrod and I were originally going to go there for dinner, but the walk was really sketchy and we decided to go there for lunch instead after we came across a pack of stray dogs blocking the sidewalk and saw a guy peeing on the sidewalk during our nighttime walk. The next day at lunch time the walk felt much safer. I got a delicious plate of pan-fried trout and a huge corn strawberry drink. I didn’t mean to order as large of drink as I got but oh well! Gerrod ordered a random dish of meats including guinea pig!
There were multiple performances during our meal with traditional Peruvian dances!
Other than hanging out and meeting some cool people at our hostel, that about sums up the rest of our Cusco adventure.
Lauren (and Gerrod)