Things to do in Cusco – Machu Picchu
One of the seven wonders of the world, this Inca site does not disappoint. It’s a must.
Tours start at $220 for an overnight including tickets and go up to thousands depending on what train and hotel you will stay at.
a) You can do this tour in a day as Machu Picchu is only 70km from Cusco. Either by train, but here are also tours that will drive as far as they can, walk you into Machu Picchu and then return the same day to Cusco.
b)You can also take your time and try doing part of the inca trail, which leads you right up into Machu Picchu. But take note, the Inca trail is not a walk in the park. You should be pretty fit, and not scared of heights. In Cusco when the guide tells you you are about to walk on an Incan ‘flat’ he does not mean it will be flat, he just means it is not mountainous!
c) Think about staying an extra night. Buying another days ticket will give you time to consider the other four walks you can do, either up one of the mountains (Machu Picchu or Huanapicchu), or along the Inca trails including one that leads to an Inca bridge which is well worth doing.
d) You can also organise this trip yourself, but make sure you have a ticket to get into Machu Picchu as there’s a limit on people allowed into the site.
Whereas Machu Picchu is set hidden from the world and has a certain mysticism to it, the Pisac ruins show the daily life of the Incas. It is a must to walk the ruins if you come to Cusco. From the temples to the largest known Inca burials (holes in the mountain cliffs), to the old village and the fortress lookouts, these ruins need at least
half a day to enjoy. N.B. There is a great little museum in Pisac which has mummies and skulls that have been operated on and elongated. The entrance is donations and worth a visit. The loos are pretty clean for this area too.
a) Tours go to this site, but make sure they include a guided tour of the ruins, as some seem to spend more time in Pisac market, which though interesting, may not be what you are expecting.
b) You can easily go from Cusco to Pisac by collectivo. These are cars and small vans filled with locals moving from one place to another. They are incredibly cheap (currently $1.5 one way), and it is by far the best way to join locals in the their daily travels. Then you have three options. Walk up or down to the ruins (about 3 hours), and walk or take a taxi back ($10), or walk up and down (you’d better be fit for this). Guides tend to be more at the top than at the bottom as most people walking tend to want to walk down!
In between Cusco and Pisac there is an animal sanctuary which though doesn’t appear to be listed on any tours, is well worth the visit. If you want to see Condors and mountain lions, alpaca, and parrots close up, this is going to be your best bet.
The tour is private in return for a donation.
They have a great little shop which seems incredibly expensive. But it’s good to note these prices because they are made of real alpaca etc. It will give you a guide as to how likely it is something is 100% alpaca elsewhere.
Moray is a very unusual set of Inca ruins around 50km northwest of Cusco. The Incas experimented in farming technology, and taking advantage of the area they developed concentric circular irrigation terraces, 500 feet from top to bottom, which could create a difference of 15ºC from top to bottom. It is well worth taking a tour to see these (the only way really to get to them easily).
Saltineras (salt mines), located in the town of Maras, are terraces of salt are still in use today. Shallow pools were dug and a natural salt water spring is directed to the pools, then sealed and left to dry. As with Moray they’re hard to reach without joining a tour, but well worth the effort.
Sacsayhuaman is a walled complex overlooking Cusco. You’ll need a bit of imagination to see how magnificent this site was. Cusco was made in the shape of the Puma and Sacsayhuaman was its head. The site was built with large polished dry stone walls. Each of the boulders was carefully cut to fit together tightly without the use of any mortar. Much of the stone was used as building material when the Spanish arrived.
However, even if your imagination is not enough to inspire you, the views of Cusco are magnificent, and a must for a photo opportunity.
There is one other thing that is slightly more frivolous but a must. Behind one of the ruins there is a slide made of stone. Well worth climbing up and sliding down. Mostly only known by locals, this may not be included on a tour so ask first.
You can walk there from town as it’s not to far (25-30 mins from Plaza de Armas, or take a taxi ($5) to the entrance. Guides are available at the entrances.
It’s another great place to visit the Inca ruins. Here you can see another great example of the Inca’s technological development. The Incas rested much lager stones blocks on smaller ones so they could move and remain stable during earthquakes.
It is also the place where the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu starts, and where one of the Trains to Machu Picchu begins. This means with planning you can combine your trip to Machu Picchu with enough time to see this town.
Plaza De Armas
Sit in the Plaza De Armas in the centre of Cusco for at least an hour and people watch. You are sitting in the naval of the world, as the Incas believed, and looking at their descendants.
On the Plaza De Armas in Mama Africa – a nightclub where mainly South American’s go to dance, both salsa and disco. Dancing is part of South American life, so it’s a good idea to down a few Piscos and have a go.
Eat Pig in Huaracondo
About 50 minutes from Cusco is a town called Huaracondo, where people travel from Cusco to eat pig on a Sunday. Worth the visit to see the local market, and where very few tourists come, you can get a collectivo from Cusco to Izcuchaca (soles 3), and then another collectivo to Huaracondo (soles 1). This is also a good place to stay a few days as there are some great walks. The only hostel in the village is run by a Peruvian and an American (www.gringowasi.com)