Peru – The famous Cuzco and Machu Picchu

A dream I am about to finally realize!

Discovering the Machu Picchu and the Incas, who they were and why they still represent so much in the evolution of the world.
I wanted to understand why they are said to be precursors, innovative people who led a great advance in civilization — I wanted to be in their world. 

But, to fully appreciate the Machu Picchu, it’s better to know a little about Peru’s history. Indeed, for Peruvians, that of the Incas is really important, as we discovered through our various visits. 

So if you want to learn a little more about this people before setting off to explore the region,
Click here

The town of Cuzco

We spent a few days in Cuzco before the trail to acclimate to the altitude. Because at 3,600 meters above sea level, even walking through the streets of the city is difficult. We lost our breath very quickly!

We therefore decided on a quiet program for these early days.
Visit to Cuzco, a small hike on the surrounding heights — we could not help it!  — local market experience, the Inca museum and chocolate.

But above all, we had to equip ourselves!

We got here on a cloudy day. The cold took hold of us when we got out of the aircraft, and we had to equip ourselves with hats and gloves. Perfect, these are their signature goods!
So it was with our fingers and ears warm and sporting local bright colors that we started our visit.

The visit of Cuzco and its surroundings

We were surprised to find that there are no ancient Inca buildings in Cuzco. The Spaniards have destroyed them all — almost, because there are still some remnants.
Indeed, as part of their mission of evangelization, the conquerors wanted to replace the Inca temples and their idols with churches. 

But since the Incas were exceptional builders, the Spaniards were unable to remove the large stones that served as the base. Having no choice, they kept and used them as such in the construction of their houses of worship and administrative buildings.

This unique architecture contributes greatly to the beauty of the town.

The historic center of Cuzco

The Main Square – Plaza de Armas
The fountain on the Main Place
Another view of the square
Colonial arcades
Santa Clara Church and Convent
An old house
Cuzco Church
Church of the Society of Jesus
Minor Basilica of Mercy
Cuzco College of Sciences
San Francisco Church
Cathedral of Cuzco
Santa Clara Arch
Its construction dates from 1835. It was ordered in commemoration of the beginning of the establishment of the Peru-Bolivia Confederation. 

The school of Cuzco

During our visit, we discovered the Cuzco School of Fine Arts. Although it now offers various art classes, its original movement, “the school of Cuzco“, was totally different.

This Catholic art movement was developed during the 16th and 17th Centuries by the Spanish. For the first time, European drawing and oil painting techniques were taught in South America. All this to convert the Quechua and Mestizo (descendants of Spaniards and Native Americans) to Catholicism!

Of course, the realizations were not free, all the works were designed to beautify the churches.

Sacsayhuamán, the “Sexy Woman” ruins of Cuzco

We are here at the head of the puma, and the shape of the zigzag temple would represent its teeth

Located on the outskirts of Cuzco, they are easily accessible. A 30-minute walk up the hill takes you directly to the main entrance.

It took me a little while to realize that “Sexy Woman” was neither the name of the site nor the description of a statue — which struck me as strange! — but the pronunciation of the tourists.

The temple, originally built to defend the town, was divided into three parts: a military fortress, a religious site, and a parade ground.

Pukamuqu Hill

A miniature of Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro.

An easy and free hike. We arrived at the foot of Cristo Blanco, the White Christ. This statue was a gift from the Christians of Palestine in 1945, in gratitude for the welcome they received when they came.

After visiting the site, we continued on our way towards the top of Pukamuqu Hill. From the summit, we had an amazing view of the city. 

It is also a place of prayer and meditation
View of Cuzco from the hill with its central square, the puma’s chest!

We tried to regain the shape of the city’s mountain lion. Suffice to say that with our scant clues and the development of Cuzco, it was mission impossible!

We took this opportunity to enjoy a fruit tasting. There were so many enticing and different and unknown ones for us at the market, we bought one of each. And frankly, they were all delightful. In their own way! 😊

To finish our visit, we came back from the narrow streets and stairs of one of the hillside districts. 

San Pedro Market

You can find anything in that marketplace. Fresh products, spices, fruit juices, handmade clothing. There are also plenty of stalls where you can sample local food cheaply.

This is where we found our fruits!

Chocolate museum 

You won’t want to miss it. A chocolate workshop! 

Comment fait on le chocolat ? 🤔
Mes réalisations 🤩

If you get a chance, don’t hesitate to do so. We had a great time!

Between the theory of making it and the practice of making your own chocolate, everything was perfect. 

And we went away with our achievements! 

Museum of the Incas  

It is the best museum in town in terms of Inca culture. Inside are jewelry, textiles, mummies, pottery, temple models, and numerous objects in gold.

A visit to plunge you into the Inca world.

Le Machu Picchu

The discovery of Machu Picchu

In 1911,  the American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the site, thanks to information given by local farmers. He was looking for the last city of the Inca civilization before the Spanish destroyed them. Thus, after 6 days of walking in the middle of mountains and dense vegetation, he found the site of Machu Picchu.

Back in America and eager to create other expeditions on the site, he promises the research committee of the National Geographic Society to bring back the gold of the Andes if they finance his trips to Peru. And that’s exactly what he did. He returned to Machu Picchu three times until 1915, bringing back to his country thousands of artifacts.

These treasures were finally returned to Peru a hundred years later.

The site of Machu Picchu

The site was a royal estate

Located at 2,430 meters of altitude, the site of Machu Picchu was built in the classic Inca style, with walls of polished dry stone. Its three main structures are Intihuatana (the astronomical observatory), the Temple of the Sun, and the Hall of the Three Windows

Most of the outlying houses we can see today have been rebuilt, to give visitors a better idea of their original appearance.

At the time of its greatness, about 750 people lived there permanently as servants. The other residents, skilled workers or religious, came to stay there temporarily to satisfy the welfare of King Pachacutec.

Just before the end of the Inca empire, this number fell to 100 and their work was limited to site maintenance.

Une dernière petite info avant de découvrir le trail

I’ve always believed that Machu Picchu mountain was the one you see in pretty much every photo. Well no !

The hill of Machu Picchu, Old Pic in Quechua…
… in opposition to Wayna Picchu, Young Pic, on which stand ancient ruins that dominate the Inca city

Our trail : 4 days – 3 nights

To reach Machu Picchu, there are two access roads. One by bus from the village of Aguas Calientes and the other through the Sacred Valley

I’ve always dreamed of following this mythical Inca path!

We booked an organized tour, the only way to take this part of the Inca Trail. The agencies take care of everything. From the permits that allow you to enter the site and pass the various checkpoints along the way, to accommodation and food. 

If you prefer to hike by yourself in these beautiful landscapes, there are other open routes, but they won’t take you directly at the foot of Machu Picchu.

In terms of organization, we were accompanied by handymen (porters, cook’s helpers), a chef, a porters’ manager and two guides. For our group of 16, our caravan was 30 people! 

Suffice to say that when we only carried small 5 kg backpacks, our porters disappeared behind theirs.

We had gargantuan meals at midday and dinner, breakfast and tea time. It was just amazing! They have unlimited hospitality.

I found all this perhaps a little too much, as I am not accustomed to such luxury in the mountains. But I’ve been able to appreciate it.

However, I wish the tour was organized by physical level. While some required four hours to reach the refueling point, for others two hours were enough. And so I spent a lot of time waiting, which was very frustrating!

My advice would be, if you are a good hiker, to walk the same trail in one day less. A private tour may also be a possibility. 

Along the way, we could admire the ruins of temples and “tambos,” places where messengers rest. We admired magnificent views and learned about the history of these people through our guides. All under magnificent weather. 

The agency had promised us an unforgettable experience, a dive in ancient history to discover the essence of Inca culture. They got it right!

Short description of the trail

Our roadmap

Day 1 : From Cuzco to Wayllabamba

We took a minibus from Cuzco to KM82, the beginning of the trail.
So KM82 is because we are 82 km away from Cuzco by train, and the distance became the name of the place.

Preparations for departure

We left at 6:00 AM for a three-hour drive. A breakfast was waiting for us on arrival, to gain strength before departure.

Sated, it was eventually time to get ready and start our journey, knowing that our first day would be really quiet.

But I won’t bother you any more with words.I rather let you discover our walk by the photos.

The Urubamba River…
… we followed at the beginning of the trail
Our first ruins: a tambo, a warehouse and resting place for the messengers

The ruins of Patallacta

This site housed travelers and soldiers.

Patallacta was burned down by Manco Inca Yupanqui. In 1536, during his retreat from Cuzco, he destroyed a number of settlements along his route to discourage Spanish pursuits. It is partly for this reason that the Spaniards never discovered the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

An overview of the site
A village at the foot of the ruins

The rest of our progress was done quietly, interrupted by our meal break, until our first camp, Wayllabamba.

Day 2 : From Wayllabamba to Pacaymayu

It is reputed to be the most difficult day but ultimately not that much if you are trained. On the other hand, for those who were not in great physical condition, they really suffered!

We left the camp just before dawn which allowed us to be the first and therefore have the trail all to ourselves. A real pleasure!

A waterfall in the background
The relatively flat trail at the beginning…
… quickly turned into a steep staircase
From the top, the view where we are coming from

The Dead Woman’s Pass

We are at the highest point of our hike.

4,215 m above sea level !
Finally the sun. A little warmth !

Why the Dead Woman’s Pass? It is not because a woman died there, but because the slope of the mountain, seen from the descending valley, looks like a woman lying down… So why dead and not lying down? This I do not know. 🤔

The view where we are going
And here we go again for the stairs. We took these downhill. The photo is misleading!

All we had to do was go back down to reach our midday camp, where the porters and our chef were already busy preparing our rest area and of course our hearty meal.

The rest areas where we stopped are all equipped with toilets, and each group has its place. Indeed, whatever agency you choose, the program is the same. We weren’t the only ones, but I didn’t get a crowd feeling either.

After a meal that made us want to take a nap more than walk, we set off again to conquer the mountain.

Runkuraqhay tambo

A tambo that served as a watchtower over the Pacamayo Valley

By late afternoon, the weather changed, and the clouds rising from the valley formed a cotton cloth.

With the luxuriance of the cloud forest of the high Andes and the light coming down from the day, the atmosphere grew more mystical.

As a reminder that we were in the Sacred Valley.  

It was in this atmosphere that we reached Sayacmarca, which was both a village and a sacred area. Its name means “inaccessible city” which proves true as the city is invisible from the path.

We only see a steep staircase that climbs the mountainside.

The mountainside stairway
The discovery of the hidden city

After a small tour of the ruins of Sayacmarca, we resumed our way to the camp.

Last straight line before the finish!

The Chaquiccocha camp above the clouds

Like the other evenings, we were all exhausted. Waking up at dawn and walking days got the better of our resistance. So we all went to bed at 7:00 p.m., and I’m pretty sure like me, everyone was asleep by 8:00. 🤣

Day 3 : From Pacaymayu to Wiñay Wayna

Even though getting up at sunrise these mornings was a little hard, the view of the landscapes mixed with the tranquility of the beginning of the day was worth it.

Luckily the clouds quickly dissipated
The Inca tunnel

Below, we were able to discover Phuyupatamarca.

Every time, it was a delight to see its ruins appear, as if out of nowhere. They were so far from everything, that it’s always made me wonder how the Incas could have built these magnificent sites in such remote places.

Phuyupatamarca is also known as “the city above the clouds.” At an altitude of 3,200 m, it dominates the rainforest responsible for the blanket of clouds.

And it’s just before noon, and the end of our day’s walk, that we stop to visit Intipadta.

Our last campsite, Winay Wayna campsite, Forever Young. 

Just so you know, this was the only campsite with showers. A cold shower! As everything always goes in pairs, this very afternoon it rained and the temperatures fell.

But even so, this shower was a true pleasure!

Nearby are the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, the last spot where people could take a break before reaching Machu Picchu. The place was named after an orchid species that grows in this area.

After visiting the ruins, we returned to the camp for our last snack and evening meal. 

Imagine our surprise to find a superb cake on the table! Cooked over the fire and decorated as if it came out of a pastry shop. Just to demonstrate to you how spoiled we were.

The cake and some table decorations!

Day 4: From Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu

It’s our last day and the alarm clock rang even earlier than usual. By 5:00 AM, we were ready. Not that we had to leave before dawn, but because the porters had to have time to dismantle the camp and descend into the valley to catch their train home.

As for us, we settled in as best we could to wait until the opening of the last gate leading to the Machu Picchu trail.

A few hours later, we finally discovered Machu Picchu!

The view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, Inti Punku
The last 100 meters before the finish
A look back!

We took the time to walk among the ruins. The bulk of the crowd wasn’t there yet, which made our visit all the more enjoyable. Our guide took the opportunity to tell us a little more about the history of the Incas and their farming techniques — evidently his favorite subject!

But it was time for us to get going again. Our day was not over.

The ascent of Wayna Picchu

Out of the whole group, we were the only ones who booked the climb of the Wayna Picchu, the mountain that appears on almost every photo of the Machu Picchu.u

SSo if you look at the shape of the mountain, you have an idea of the course of the path leading to the summit. Straight from the bottom to the highest point!

Dozens of increasingly steep and narrow stairways. It is not ideal for those who fear the void, but by taking your time, you go directly to a breathtaking view of the Machu Picchu.

Truly, it’s worthwhile — a wonderful way to say goodbye to this majestic site.

The view of Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu.

Important Information: As the ticket for this climb is not included with the trail, you have to ask the agency to take care of the booking. The same is true for the Machu Picchu climb.

And it’s done…

It was time for us to go back down to Aguas Calientes to join the group for a last meal at the restaurant, before taking the train back.

One can descend to the city from the entrance of the site on foot or by bus. Our bus ticket being included, the idea of going down on foot did not cross our minds. It was on the way that we began to regret not having taken the small path that wound through the forest. Until we realize that the last km of the return were along the road. Our regrets quickly flew away!

Aguas Calientes also known as The town of Machu Picchu
The railway that crosses the city
Our first view of the city

So we found our way back to the group, and despite the insistence of a Peruvian member, the grilled guinea pig did not have many fans. Just one of us dared… And he told us that in the end, it was good!

He even has a hat!

We all took his word for it!

Final word

I will keep an unforgettable memory of these four days. All the little inconveniences that I encountered during this hike no longer mattered at the sight of Machu Picchu.

If you really want to enjoy and fully understand the value of this site, I can only recommend you to walk the Inca Trail and discover the Sacred Valley.

I always have stars in my eyes when I look at the photos.

So, get started!

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