Trip Date – July 2014
| 🇵🇪| Peru is a nation home to dozens of travelers’ most attractive and desired qualities. From distinct history and vibrant locals to remarkable landscapes and savory cuisines, the offerings of this South American gem consistently attract visitors from all corners of the globe. As the site of the legendary Inca Empire, Peru has preserved much of its mythical feel, most notably Machu Picchu, a spectacular and world-renowned archeological wonder. Whether you’re after the world’s deepest canyon or a roasted guinea pig lunch, Peruvian memories will surely prove to be as meaningful as any.
Following nearly a week in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, my mother, sister, cousin and I visited Peru for three days en route back to the US. Despite limited time to spare, we hit the ground running determined to make every minute count. Given the short time frame, we decided to prioritize Machu Picchu and, after arriving Lima from Buenos Aires, immediately continued to Cusco.
Cusco is located in the Southern Sierras and consists of well-preserved colonial architecture. As the former capital city of the Inca Empire, it is the most convenient starting point for tourists beginning their journey to Machu Picchu. Although typically viewed as just a launching pad to surrounding attractions, I found the city itself to be well worth exploring. It would be a mistake to miss spending generous time in the main square, various museums and narrow alleyways. We used award points and stayed that evening at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco. Everything about the hotel was spot on.
Early the next morning we hired a driver to take us 90-minutes northeast to Ollantaytambo Station where we picked up the PeruRail Train to Aguas Calientes, a small town and seat of the Machu Picchu District. Aguas Calientes can only be accessed by rail or on foot and, despite being overpriced and the victim of intense development, we enjoyed the small mountainous village and its natural beauty.
Buses from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu run throughout the day and tickets must be bought in advance at a small office in town. The six-kilometer (3.7-mile) ride showcases fantastic views of the Andes. Machu Picchu, meaning “old mountain” in the indigenous Quechua language, is a 600-year-old citadel situated on a stunning mountain ridge. It rests at an elevation of 2,430 meters (7,970 feet – interestingly lower than Cusco) and is the most popular icon of Inca civilization. It is unquestionably as magnificent as everyone reports.
Following countless photographs from the beloved lookout point, we ventured down into the ruins for a closer look. The polished dry-stone walls make up more than 150 buildings, including temples, baths, houses and sanctuaries. The Incas were expert masons resulting in their structures clearly standing the test of time. Although many of the stones used to build the city weighed in excess of 25 kilos (≈ 50 pounds), archeologists believe that no wheels were used for transportation and that the rocks were instead pushed up the mountainside by large groups of men. Aside from the hefty but expected crowd of tourists, wandering the ancient city under a bright blue Peruvian sky remains one of my best travel memories. I can’t imagine that a trip to Peru would be complete without it.
In addition to the ruins, Machu Picchu is well known for its only residents – llamas and alpacas. Domesticated by the Incans nearly 4,000 years ago, they roam freely within the ancient city and are a highlight of any visit.
On our way out, I caught a few minutes of the Argentina vs. Germany World Cup Final game. Being in South America during the tournament was exciting enough, but watching from a Machu Picchu restaurant was an even better memory. As you may recall, the Deutschlanders went on to win 1-0.
That evening, we enjoyed walking along the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Aguas Calientes. A friend had recommended hiking Putucusi Mountain but, after finally locating the trail head, learned that it was temporarily closed due to recent rainy weather. Next time! We returned to Cusco in the morning via PeruRail. I never enjoy spreading negativity, but upon arriving town, my sister’s phone was cleverly pick-pocketed by our taxi driver. We didn’t notice until he had already fled the scene and it was too late. As disappointing as things like this are, it’s a shitty but sometimes necessary reminder of how important vigilance is when traveling.
Unfortunately, I also ran into to some bad luck in the days following this trip. After flying from Lima to Toronto to be the Best Man in a buddy’s wedding, I started to feel awful. I (barely) managed to attend the event and the next day was diagnosed with salmonella. I’m relatively sure I picked it up in Peru by eating undercooked eggs, although it may have been from somewhere earlier in the week. Regardless, it’s a nasty illness that I hope to never experience again.
Despite a few hiccups on the back end of the trip, I recommend visiting Peru without hesitations. Of course, there is so much more to see than Machu Picchu, including Late Titicaca, Colca Canyon and further exploring the Sacred Valley. I would be stoked for the opportunity to return!
Have you been to Peru? What’s your best memory?