Located in steep and high altitude mountains, Cuzco is at 3200 meters or 10,500 feet so the air is thin and it can be tough to breathe at times. Cuzco is a very touristy city with a dime a dozen tour agencies and tour options.
Arrival into Cuzco
Well, we certainly had a cultural experience on the latest bus ride.. We had high hopes for the beautiful bus ride to Cuzco. The ‘highway’ rides through the altiplano, or high altitude plain with mountains and lakes spattered throughout. Plus we had 1st row seats on the 2nd floor, so we’d get some great views.
However, the day started out rough when we arrived to our company and their buses were under maintenance. We had to switch companies, and then started our journey. Once on the bus, we found out the bathroom didn’t work. For a 12 hour bus ride… Pure awesomeness. So periodically, the Peruvian ladies would start yelling and banging on the bus driver’s door, and then he would let us off. In the middle of high altitude desert, to go pee. The best part about the bathroom breaks? The passing cars and trucks honking at 60 people peeing.
To continue to sheer awesomeness that was this bus ride, the air conditioning was broken also, so me and Sam baked in the hot sun for 12 hours. We were also entertained by a myriad of traveling salesmen, including bible thumpers, miracle drug salesmen, and indigenous language textbooks. The only redeeming quality of this bus ride was the laughs we had when the Peruvian ladies screamed at oncoming passengers “Don’t get on!! There’s no bathroom, TV or music. This is horrible!” Boy were we ready to get off in Cuzco.
We didn’t spend too much time here, because the crowds are overwhelming and the hawking salespeople are draining. But the parts that we did see are beautiful, with lots of old churches and big town squares. The central Plaza de Armas is a huge town square with lots of shops and restaurants on all sides. It feels so old worldish. Just down the street, there is a handcraft market, so I was in heaven exploring all of the fun things to buy. I wound up with lots of jewelry supplies, a handwoven beautiful rug and a hand carved bowl featuring Inca designs.
Before making our way to South America’s most famous landmark (hint — it’s Machu Picchu), Sam and I started with a guided tour of the Sacred Valley, which was the bread basket of the Inca warriors as well as housing some of their most sacred cities.
The Incan empire stretched from Ecuador to Santiago at its height and had 200 known cities throughout the empire. So we only saw a fraction of the ruins, including Pisaq, a city that housed astronomers and agro-specialists, and Ollantaytambo, the resting place between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. All of the cities are built with indigenous rock carved from the mountains the sites are located on.
The walls and houses are built without mortar, so the rocks are cut to fit just perfectly on each other. Surrounded by huge, steep mountains, its truly amazing how creative and talented they were to build these impressive structures. The Incas were also master terrace builders, so all the cities are largely self-sustaining with a variety of agriculture, especially potatoes and corn.