As I mentioned before in my post on Bolivia, I spent a couple months in South America back in 2006. I flew to Lima for a friend’s wedding, then flew up to Cusco to see Machu Picchu and the surrounding area.
One thing to bear in mind if you’re planning on making the trip from sea-level Lima to Cusco at 11,000 feet or so: the air is mighty thin up there! Most hoteliers are aware of the effects on the average lowlander, and they have coca leaves and hot water for you when you check in.
It won’t get you high, but it does the trick for altitude sickness. And it doesn’t taste half bad – kind of like green tea. There’s a packaged tea down there called Trimate that’s a mixture of coca, chamomile and anise that’s really good. I would advise against trying to bring it back through customs into the U.S. however.
Beautiful Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire, until the Spanish showed up in 1533 and started wrecking the joint. Much of the city is a blend of Spanish and Inca architecture, including the actual stone itself, since the Spanish liked to tear down Inca temples to build their own.
The Inca made one last stand and attempt to retake the city in 1536. They besieged the city for ten months, but were ultimately unsuccessful in kicking the Spanish out, despite vastly superior numbers.
One of the funny things I remember about seeing Machu Picchu is the fellow travelers I ran into who claimed to be unimpressed by these ruins due to the fact that they’re “only” about 500 years old. Call me crazy, but the incredible stone work, (done entirely with copper tools at best, often by people hanging off a cliff over a thousand foot drop), is still impressive.
Throw in the beautiful mountain top location and you have one of the most amazing ruins that I’ve ever seen. But hey, there’s no pleasing some people. Hipsters can infest the budget travel scene just like anywhere else. Vigilance!
Písac is a cool little town in the heart of the Sacred Valley, famous for it’s Sunday market and nearby ruins. I just made a quick trip out there, but it’d be worth exploring the area. The beautiful terraces are reminiscent of other places I’ve been, the ruins are pretty cool, and the cuy is cheap and plentiful. If you’re into that kind of thing. Me, not so much.
I had one in Cusco, served in the traditional Inca fashion: on a bed of french fries. It’s interesting, looking down into the face of a small rodent fresh from the fry-o-later, skin, toenails and little nibbly teeth still intact. It’d be one thing if it tasted like ribeye steak, but far from it. Let’s face it, you’re eating a frickin’ rat.
The town of Puno sits at the southern edge of Peru, down by Bolivia, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. One cool thing Puno is notable for is the Yavari, a steam powered ship commissioned by the Peruvian government in 1861 for use on the lake.
The Yavari is an ironed-hulled boat, and built in what’s called “knock down” form, which basically means it was shipped as a kit to the southern port of Arica, then by rail for 40 miles, and the remaining 220 miles (uphill) by pack mules. Damn, that must have been a fun trip.
Now, the Yavari is a tourist attraction, and a pretty cool one at that. The ship has been lovingly restored, and the controls, hardware and original steam engine are beautiful to behold. It’s well worth checking out if you’re in the neighborhood.
Another thing Puno is famous for is its access to the nearby Uros Islands, floating islands made of reeds, where people live and work just like they’re living on dry land. The story is these islands were originally built by the Uros people to protect themselves from nearby violent dickheads the Aymara.