Cusco & Machu Picchu

Cusco
Like an old provincial town, Cusco’s centre is laid with cobbles streets, wooden balconies, archways, flower beds and cathedrals. But this is South America, and this is Peru. Rickety carts of watermelon and pineapple wobble by, women in bright weaves cradle baby llamas, buses screech round the tightest of corners , and school children trickle by. The city is full of tourists of course, but that makes the hawkers shout louder and the town more alive. Cusco is a place for beers in the sun, for dancing in the street and for long nights, but it’s also a place for beautiful churches, long hikes and ancient cities of the Inca empire.

From the steps of the old cathedral, see the city sprawl up the hills behind, and the main square bustle below. From here, the streets spread outwards into other squares, towards the San Pedro Market, and the La Merced convent. The square caters to every taste and budget, with macdonalds, an Irish pub, a French bistro and shumoosy cafes. In the centre you’ll also find the delicious buffet Indian at a breezy 15soles, a two course yum mountain at the market for 5soles, and a free chocolate museum. Bump up your day with a chocolate class, where you’ll learn about the beans, Mayan cocoa, Spanish cocoa, tempering, and -the good bit-, making your own chocolates.

Beyond the cobbles and plazas are the mountains and hills of the sacred valley. Here is where Cusco joins with its Qucheua past, in the form of the Inca Trail. Walk one of the four pilgrimages to the Inca city and discover the legacy of the warrior king Patchacuteh. Also in the area is the small town of ollyombo, pico, the hilltop ruins of sexywoman and the mineral rich Rainbow Mountain.

 

Machu Picchu
Named ‘old mountain’ and ‘ young Mountain’, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu stand at around 2,500m high. In the direction of each point on a compass are mighty glaciers, a perfect cross, forests and lakes suffocate the rock and everywhere there are sharp mountain peaks. In the middle, wedged precariously between the two sacred Picchus, is the city of kings. Here is Machu Picchu, where the great Inca empire ruled South America. Trails go from each of the four glaciers, as ancient pilgrimages, the most famous being ‘The Inca Trail’ from ‘sacred tears’ glacier. Sweat your way up dead woman’s pass, explore the perfect ruins, see tiny hummingbirds, teeter on the edge of valleys, and see the sunrise of your dreams.

Most people do the four day, three night trek, starting at kilometre 82, and finishing in Machu Picchu. If you’re up for the challenge, there’s the eight day option from cusco. You can also upgrade your normal trek with a hike up huayna Picchu, complete with sheer monkey steps and panoramic views.

 

The trek is hard, but the warm tents, three course meals and endless cocoa tea make it a little more cosy. Every tour is different, but they all have something in common, a squad of porters working day & night. They sprint up the valleys with food, tents, stools, bowls, and if you’ve paid for it, your personal belongings too. Being Quechua, they’re acclimatised, and doing it everyday means they know their stuff, but that doesn’t make it easy. Give some time and appreciation to the porters, the real Inca warriors.

Peru

The tropics of the north join with the depths of the Amazon, lush and endless, then slide into sandy beaches where Cerviche is king. In the south, the land splits into deep condor filled canyons, canvases of strange lines and pilgrimages of ancient cities. Browse the many bazaars for your perfect alpaca woollens, climb snow capped volcanoes, or visit a couple of catherderals.

Our trip takes us through Cusco, Arequipa & Cabanaconde, Ica & Huachchina, and up to Lima. Come and have a look…

The Amazon

Admittedly, My knowledge of Bolivia was pretty shabby before we came here. I didn’t know for example that Sucre is the capital -the white city-, that the air was so thin up here or that the jungle is 229,985 square miles of its landscape. The Amazon covers Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Suriname, Guyana, basically most of the continent, including north Bolivia. The place to go is Rurrenabaque and the thing to do is a jungle camp. Eat the sweet fruits of the forest, wonder through the thick leaves, and sleep in the depth of the night.

Continue reading

La Paz

Ahh, now you’ve heard of this one. Bolivia’s northern city, the business centre and economic capital, is a mad sprawl of 870,000 people. Mount Huayna Potosi sits silently on the horizon, the crazed hills collapse in the middle like a soufflé, and there, in the pit, is La Paz. The high altitude and trapped clouds make it a cold place, but the sun shines high and the city is alive.  Continue reading

Samaipata

Small, dusty and old, you’ll find Samaipata on the windy backroads south west of Santa Cruz. Although the town isn’t groundbreaking, it’s a cosy little place that acts as a base for the things around it. Discover ancient inca ruins or explore the forest hills, samaipata is a little retreat from the craziness of Bolivian cities. Continue reading

Sucre

Sucre-the white city- is a picturesque maze of old buildings and pretty nooks . As the official capital, it often gets overshadowed by the business centre, La Paz, much like the Canberra-Sydney complex, but sucre is a wonderful city in its own right. It’s UNESCO title means that city is well maintained and well loved, a beautiful city to see and be in. Continue reading

Uyuni

Across the brown- orange earth, a splick of white cuts under the mountains. 12,000km2 of salt pans across the desert in one of natures most bizarre, unique, otherworldly spectacles. The salt is blindingly white, the sky is cloudless and the curvature of the earth draws the horizon. This is salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world, and the main attraction for in three day trip across Bolivia. You have to see it. Continue reading

Bolivia

As one of the least visited countries in South America, Bolivia is often underestimated and overlooked. The dry salt lands of the south merge into the mountain forests of the east and to the north into dense masses of jungle. Between them are vibrant markets, ancient ruins and barely there roads. See the incredible salt flats, the white town of sucre, or the madness of a city wedged in the mountains -La Paz. The only thing Bolivia doesn’t have is the sea -that belongs to chile- and money. In place of globalisation and mass oil exports, are dosens of cultures and protected national parks. Try maize soup, quinoa beer and a potent lump of cocoa leaves to chew on.

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is right in the north of chile, 1,200km from Santiago, and plonked in the middle of the Atacama desert –the driest place on earth. For miles there’s dust, mountains, and nothingness. But San Pedro is far from the frontier town you’d expected to be. Find cool bars, ice cream parlours, hot showers and even wifi. It’s also a base for tours around the desert, to bursts of life hidden in the curves of the desert. Continue reading

Salta

Heavy with gold from Peru and searching for a route back to Spain, the colony abandoned the treacherous waters of Patagonia, left the pirate riddled Caribbean and made a road south through the continent. Their port was Buenos Aires, and their road the pan-American highway. This is where Salta was born. Continue reading