The One Less Traveled By: a chronicle of my yearlong sabbatical

Peru – Cusco, Machu Pichu, Moray & Maras
August 2, 2010, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Peru

After leaving La Paz, Bolivia at the end of April I headed straight to Cusco, Peru, passing (up) Lake Titicaca on the way.  Cusco is a beautiful town with a Spanish colonial feel, nice restaurants, steep cobblestoned streets, gorgeous plazas, and excellent nightlife.  It was, at one point, the historic capital of the Inca Empire and, later, the center of Spanish colonization in the Andes.  Today, it’s the capital of tourism in Peru, if not South America, thanks to it’s proximity to world-famous Machu Pichu.  I stayed a total of three days in Cusco, bisected by a trip to Machu Pichu.

Cusco is surrounded on all sides by rolling hills


Cusco's Plaza del Armas

Festival in the Plaza del Armas

Coricancha, one of the most important temples in the Inca Empires

I arrived in Cusco with some desire, but no set plan, to see Machu Pichu.  The most common way to get to MP is to hike the old Inca Trail, which takes about four days and crosses several mountain passes over 4000m.  Since I hadn’t booked a trek months in advance, and since permits for the trek were sold out through the end of August already by April, I opted for the train – along with foot, the only mode of transportation possible – and was lucky to score a seat for the next day my first day in Cusco.  (Floods and mudslides in January, which washed away portions of the rail line and closed MP to tourists, caused a massive back-up in tourism by the time I arrived.)  The train, which ended up not leaving from Cusco but from an hour away in the Sacred Valley, was a great way to travel – it’s comfy, clean, and has large panoramic windows that provide excellent views of the steep mountains through which the train winds.  The ride lasts about two hours and terminates in Aguas Calientes, a disastrous little town at the base of the mountain on which MP perches – a town that exists only to serve tourists and that takes tourist-cheesy to a whole new level.  From Aguas Calientes, I grabbed a minibus up the steep and winding road that takes visitors up to Machu Pichu.

The beginning of the train line to Machu Pichu

Boarding the train

Probably the nicest train in South America

I had moderate expectation for Machu Pichu because, over the last two months of traveling in South America, I had heard so much about how great it is, and so tempered my expectations accordingly.  I was, however, totally blown away.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places I have ever been.  The ruins themselves are pretty neat, but for me it was the location of them that is most impressive – the Incas picked a most spectacular place to build this city.  I wandered around for about 4 hours before I was finally shooed away by heavy rains, which seem to be a daily occurrence that time of year.

Panorama of Machu Pichu

Machu Pichu with Huyana Pichu mountain in the background


Machu Pichu is well-protected by steep mountainsides

Terraces for agriculture

After spending a night in Aguas Calientes – the only option for staying at MP being a $400+ a night hotel room – I headed back by train to a town called Ollantaytambo, about halfway to Cusco and in Peru’s Sacred Valley.  From there, along with two others from Spain, I negotiated with a taxi driver to take us the rest of the way back to Cusco via some other sights in the Sacred Valley.  That afternoon provided an excellent opportunity to improve my Spanish as the other three spoke no English.

The first place we stopped was Moray, an Incan agricultural laboratory that was used to cultivate resistant and hearty varieties of plants high in the Andes.

Entrance to Moray

Moray from above

Terraces used to grow different crops

The outcropping stones are steps used to move from one level to another

From Moray we drove to the salt plains at Maras, which were built by the Inca and are still used to produce salt today.  Highly saline water from a natural spring is slowly diverted into and around hundreds of small (roughly one square meter) and shallow pools that have been dug into a hillside.  The water then evaporates, leaving little collections of salt.

The slat plains of Maras

From afar

The salt pools

The Sacred Valley from Maras


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Great Post! More good info and pics at:

Comment by yacaree

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