A Travellerspoint blog

The Lost City of the Incas

Machu Picchu: The 7th Wonder of the World

sunny 70 °F

Machu Picchu is often dubbed the best known archeological site in South America.

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Check this out this video on how we came to Machu Picchu via an adventure through Incan wild:

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Machu Picchu is the site of an ancient Incan city, 8,000 feet up in the Andes of Peru.

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It's one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire.

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It seemed only appropriate to end our 3 months in Peru with a visit to one of the most spectacular sets of ruins in the world.

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In spite of the crowds (see the video above), this long-anticipated highpoint of our trip was breathtaking.

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Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as a summer estate for the Incan Emperor, Pachacuti.

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The 9th Incan king ruled in the early 1400's, and was responsible for expanding the empire and making Cuzco the capital.

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Machu Picchu is often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas" because it was never discovered by the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century.

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Although known locally, it fell into disrepair after the Incas were conquered.

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It remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention when he "rediscovered" it in in 1911.

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Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls.

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Many of the walls are constructed of hand-cut stone that fits perfectly together without need of mortar.

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This bunny seemed happy that some of the walls were in disrepair.

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One of our favorite spots was the Room of Three Windows.

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The step-shaped rock in the foreground is the Chakana or Incan Cross, well it's half a cross, which served as a sort of solstice calendar. Every June 21st, the Chakana cross will reflect the full cross as a shadow.

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Perhaps the most famous viewpoint in the city is the Temple of the Sun.

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It is home to Inti Watana, a ritual stone associated with the astronomic clock or calendar of the Inca. This sundial is carved at the top of a natural pyramid's summit.

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In the same complex, they also carved this kite shape compass. Researchers think the shape mimics the Southern Cross constellation.

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The Incans grew all their food on terraces.

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Now, the park keeps the grass down with, you guessed it, llamas!

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The central courtyard was likely a market for trading goods from the Amazon jungle in the north.

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After exploring Machu Picchu, it was time to trek Huayna Picchu, which is the peak above Sarah's head here.

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At the entrance to Huayna Picchu is the Wank-a or Sacred Rock. This stone replicates the Inca's sacred mountain, Putukusi which is directly behind it.

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Only 400 people are allowed to ascend the trail daily at appointed times because the stairs are irregular, steep, and dangerous.

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We loved the architecture of these stairs near the summit.

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The view from the top was stunning!

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The way down had some tight squeezes.

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Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

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Machu Picchu is also one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

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We were so lucky to experience TWO of the Seven Wonders on our trip to South America.

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Thank you so much for following our six-month journey through South America. We appreciate your support, encouragement, and well-wishes.

On to the next adventure!

Con Amor,

Sarah and Nathan

Posted by wintermaasz 14:30 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Into the Incan Wild

Trekking Lares Mountain

all seasons in one day 50 °F

Last week, we took a 4-day trek through the Andes. On day one, we arrived at the Incan village of Písac just in time to see the sunrise over the Sacred Valley.

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The Incan city sits high above the Urubamba River on a triangular plateau with plunging cliffs on either side, which was ideal for defense in pre-colonial times.

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Researchers believe that Písac was the southern gate of the Sacred Valley as well as the only pass leading to the Incan jungle territories in the North.

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Since we were the first to arrive that morning, we were so lucky to explore the ruins all by ourselves!

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The most impressive feature is the agricultural terracing , which cups around the mountainside in sweeping arcs.

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From there, we drove to the Lares Mountain trailhead in the rural Sacred Valley. Here we are starting the trek.

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Lares Mountain is about 40 miles north of Cusco and 35 miles east of Machu Picchu.

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The first day of trekking was a gradual ascent along the Urubamba River.

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Since we were at a lower altitude, the terrain was lush.

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The red you see to the right of the river is a Peruvian woman in typical clothing making yarn by hand from her llamas pictured above.

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The Lares Valley is home to many weavers and farmers. This is a house with llama corrals we passed long the way.

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Check out this bridge the locals made with sticks and mud.

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We camped the first night in Cancha Cancha with some pretty incredible views.

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On day two, we were up at dawn for a 7-hour summit of the Lares pass.

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We were all smiles for the first few hours.

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The terrain went from green to rocky the higher we pushed.

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The farmers let their alpaca and llama herds out in the morning to graze and then hike up to bring them down in the evenings.

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We began to think of these llamas as summit cheerleaders!

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There were also many incredible glacial lakes.

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When we turned a corner and saw a glacier, we knew we were getting close.

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We were thrilled when we made it to the top!

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During our descent, we passed this beautiful waterfall just before it started to rain.

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On day four, we were lucky to wake up to sun as we hiked the final 8 miles.

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We walked along the Urubamba River to the Lares village thermal springs.

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Here's our group after shot, following a soak in the hot pools.

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Our trek over Lares Mountain was an amazing journey, and a rewarding challenge we will never forget.

Stay tuned for our final post from Peru: Machu Picchu!

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Posted by wintermaasz 14:27 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Rainbow Mountain

The View from the Top of the Andes

sunny 50 °F

Rainbow Mountain is located southeast of Cusco, in the heart of the Andes.

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It's official name is Vinicunca, and the mountain is a more mysterious adventure destination, as there is no wikipedia page and information online is scarce.

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After finding out Vinicunca was the inspiration for the Cusquena flag, Sarah looked up some photos and was diligent about finding a way to the trailhead.

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Our day began at 3AM, when we drove a couple hours to Pitumarca where we ate a breakfast of cold bread rolls in a mud hut in 30 degree weather.

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What an eye opening perspective.

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We arrived at the trailhead in Quesyuno as the sun was rising.

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It was quite steep from the get go.

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We passed several herds of resting alpaca and llama.

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And several herds of roaming alpaca and llama.

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As we scaled upwards, we were overwhelmed by the beautifully diverse landscape.

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To the right were steep snow capped peaks:

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To the left were striped multicolored hills:

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As the hours passed, the incline did not let up, and our lungs began to burn with the altitude.

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The Peruvian women hiking in sandals as they led their horses up to the pass inspired us to keep going.

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The final half mile was so challenging, we had to take frequent breaks to not pass out. There are no photos of the tough part- we were trying too hard to breathe.

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When we finally made it to the top, the view was INCREDIBLE!

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We were so happy to have survived the walk up!

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Rainbow Mountain's peak is 16,466 feet tall,

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which means that we climbed to a summit higher than any peak in the continental US!

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Apu is the Incan god or spirit of mountains and locals say that he painted this section of the Andes himself.

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Rainbow Mountain certainly looks like a hand painted masterpiece.

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We spent about an hour at the top soaking in gorgeous views like these, before needing to turn around to descend before sunset.

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We practically skipped down because we could feel the air thicken with each step.

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We were proud and exhausted as we wrapped up the hike.

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We summitted Rainbow Mountain to train for our 4 day Lares trek, so stay tuned for the next post with photos from that adventure!

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Posted by wintermaasz 15:41 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

The Incan Capital of Cuzco

Eating a Guinea Pig

sunny 60 °F

Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

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Located in Southeastern Peru, we arrived to Cusco via a gorgeous ride from Arequipa.

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In 1983, Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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As a result, it's become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors annually.

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We spent our first week exploring downtown, which is decorated with colorful flags.

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The Peruvian flag is red and white and the Cusquenan flag is multicolored like the nearby Rainbow Mountain.

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As usual, we went out of our way to try many local dishes including the Andean specialty Cuy, or guinea pig. Many locals keep guinea pigs as pets, and then grill them whole for special occasions.

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You can buy whole cuy and many other grilled meats on the street during weekend markets.

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However, we opted to make a reservation to ensure ours was hot off the grill.

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Curious how it tasted? Check out the video:

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Everyday feels like a party in Cusco. It's very common to hear fireworks morning and night, and to see people dressed in traditional costumes dancing in the street.

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On our first Sunday here, we stumbled upon the Festival of Saints:

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The city is also breathtaking by night:

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Cusco is the hub for many of the best hikes in the country, so stay tuned for our next post on summiting Rainbow Mountain!

Posted by wintermaasz 12:54 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Escuela Arequipeña

The ABCs: Alpacas, Beans, and Chocolates!

all seasons in one day 70 °F

Arequipa is Peru's second largest city, with a population of just under a million. The city is framed by 3 volcanoes: Misti, Chachani, and PichuPichu.

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The city center is a UNESCO world heritage site, and many of the colonial buildings are constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone.

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It seems like every city in Peru has a central square called "Plaza de Armas," and Arequipa's boasts this stunning 17th century basilica.

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While Peru is primarily Catholic, there is fascinating mixture of Christian and Incan religions throughout the country. For example this Catholic altar also features a sun which represents the Incan god, Inti.

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Arequipa's religious and colonial buildings blend European and native characteristics into a unique architecture style called "Escuela Arequipeña."

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A highlight of Arequipa, was our trip to Mundo Alpaca, a live eco-exhibition of alpaca wool processing.

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First we met some lovely alpacas and llamas up close.

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Then, we learned about how they shave the fleece and separate the fibers by color.

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While llamas are multi-hued, alpacas are single colored animals, and there are only 22 shades of natural fleece.

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Next, we walked through the long process of transforming the fleece into yarn in the Museum of Textile Machinery.

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Colored yarn always starts as white fleece.

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The exhibit also supports a resident expert in traditional weaving each month.

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We were so lucky to watch this artist work with a traditional backstrap loom:

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Since Arequipa is approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, we also spent a good deal of time hanging out and adjusting to the change in altitude.

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On a low key day, we signed up for a chocolate making lesson at one of our favorite hangouts: Chaqchao!

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We learned the history of chocolate back to the Incas and Aztecs. We also got to check out a fresh cacao pod (left), a 4 day old dry pod (center) and hold a piece of cocao butter (right):

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Each pod contains 20-60 beans.

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Cacao beans can be processed into cocao butter and chocolate. The chocolate is made from finely grinding the toasted beans, while the cacao butter is obtained by pressing the beans.

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Aztecs used to grind cacao beans for 6 hours to make them into a super drink for soldiers and kings. After shelling the toasted cacao beans ourselves, we ground them for about 15 minutes before making our version.

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We also learned that cacao was a form of currency in ancient times. In the Incan culture, you could buy a large tomato for 1 cacao bean, a small rabbit for 30 beans, and a wife for a mere 300 beans!

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Then, they let us go behind the scenes and make chocolate!

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After carefully picking out toppings, we each poured our own dozen.

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Sarah had no trouble licking the spoon(s).

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After saying adios to Tre, we headed for the high Andes. Our update next Sunday will be from Cusco!

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In the mean time, have a delightful week everyone!

Posted by wintermaasz 19:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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