Archive for November, 2011

Magical Machu Picchu

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Traditionally “the” way to arrive at Machu Picchu is by trekking the Inca Trail. However this is expensive and needs to be booked usually months in advance. Since I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific date for Machu Picchu and wasn’t too fussed about trekking the Inca Trail anyway I opted for the lazy option – train to Aguas Calientes and bus up the hill to Machu Picchu.

Many people have described the bus ride up and down the hill between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu as one of the scariest bus journeys in existence with lunatic drivers and precipitous drops off the side of the road. They’re all sensationalist melodramatics. However, travellers of a nervous disposition might be wise to be on one of the first two or three buses up the hill in the morning, that way there is no chance of meeting another bus coming the other way. The bus ride takes about thirty minutes or it’s possible to hike up the hill instead in about 60-90 minutes.

I was on the first bus up the hill in the morning and when we arrived at the gate for Machu Pichu there were already about 40 keen trekkers waiting in line. They opened the gates at 6am and we streamed in clutching our maps and spread out to get a bit of the magic to ourselves. Clouds caressed the site, the stone paths were slick from the mist and footsteps and other sounds were muffled. Ghostly ruins appeared out of the murk as I got closer to them.  A few vicuanas (similar to llamas) grazed the grass.

By 7am the cloud had lifted and thinned a bit but visibility was still less than 100m. I was one of thefirst group of 200 people with a ticket for Wayna Picchu, the peak at the northern end of the site. They slowly let us onto the path up the path. It took about 45 minutes to walk up the rough, steep path to the top, about 300m above the level of Machu Pichhu. The main site was still invisible, enveloped in cloud. As the sun warmed the atmosphere the cloud level went up and Machu Picchu appeared slowly over the course of an hour or so. I perched on a rock at the top of Wayna Picchu and watched the scene unfold. It was a magical experience, one I won’t forget in a hurry and one of the highlights of my trip so far.

As usual, there are some photos at Flickr.

Cuzco and Ollantaytambo

Saturday, November 5th, 2011


It was a ten hour bus ride across the Altiplano from Puno to Cuzco with stops at Pucara, La Raya, Sicuani and Raqchi. Pre-Inca civilisations worshipped a bull god and at Pucara and La Raya there are images and statues of bulls everywhere, even on the Catholic churches. The Inca ruins at Raqchi include the largest single Inca building known – 92m long, 25m wide and 12m high. Due to the construction methods used not much of it remains but it’s still pretty impressive. There are a handful of photos in my Altiplano set at Flickr.

Cuzco is considerably larger than Puno and substantially more completed. The Spanish influence is readily apparent in the layout of the historic centre and the abundance of churches, cathedrals and monasteries. Almost every shop around the Plaza de Armas and most of the surrounding streets is a tour operator and/or restaurant. The city centre is quite pretty with many cobbled streets and not too much traffic. It’s not as attractive as Arequipa but not a bad place to hang out for a few days.

I took a collectivo (public bus) from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo for just S/.10 (roughly £2.50). Ollantaytambo is traditionally a staging post on the way to or from Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu but is quite a nice place in it’s own right. There are some substantial Inca ruins on one of the valley walls above the town. Admission is included in the “boleto turistico” which is S/.130 for about 20 different sites in Cuzco and the surrounding areas. Alternatively, there are some ruins on the other side of the valley wall which are free to visit. I opted for the freebies.

There are some photos from both Cuzco and Ollantaytambo in a set at Flickr.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

A ten hour overnight bus ride got me from Arequipa to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. More than anywhere else I’ve seen in Peru, Puno exemplifies the incomplete building style seen throughout the country. Descending from the hills above the city I was greeted by a mess of red and brown roofs and unrendered brick buildings with steel re-bar poking out all over.

Some of the buildings are still under construction, although there’s precious little evidence of the builders actually building. Others are as finished as they’re going to get. British brickies would cringe with embarrassment at the finish. Mortar is obviously cheaper than bricks because the joins are much thicker than in Europe. Many are built of mud bricks. These at least don’t have re-bar poking out of the roofs or walls. This is the new, expanding part of the city. The historic centre is rather more complete but still not very pretty.

Lake Titicaca is famed as the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno is at 3822m asl. One of the attractions is a visit to the Uros floating islands. These are made of reeds and are anchored in place to stop the wind blowing them all across the lake to Bolivia. The islanders make almost everything from reeds; their islands, their houses, their boats. Their income comes from fishing and tourism. It’s possible to stay overnight with the islanders but the tour I took included an overnight home-stay on Amantani. Amantani is a solid island further out into the lake with a population of about 4000 people spread over ten villages. The island is run as a cooperative and the villages take it in turns to host the tourists who come every day. If you wanted to buy alpaca scarves or jumpers the prices here were the lowest I’ve seen in Peru – S/.35 (about £8) for an alpaca hoodie. I don’t know if they were genuine alpaca but they looked nice and felt very soft. Next morning our boat took us to Taquile island for more sightseeing and lunch before returning us to Puno in the afternoon.

There are a handful of photos in my Puno set at Flickr. There’ll be more when I get an internet connection fast enough to upload the rest.