Our main reason for heading to Cusco was to visit Machu Picchu but, we discovered so much more. While we struggled at first to acclimatize to the high altitude, we soon got into the swing of things checking out the town and surrounding Sacred Valley.
The first thing we did on arriving to Cusco (after coffee of course), was to start researching tours and options to machu Picchu. We had some prices in mind, having spoken to other travellers we'd met along the way, but after some discussion, we decided to try the DIY option.
Tickets to Machu Picchu sell out fast so if you're short on time, you can visit the following websites to book online; http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
Otherwise, it's just a matter of visiting the Ministerio de Cultura to purchase your tickets in person. The unfortuante side of this was being told the next available tickets were for a week from the day we purchased them. Not to worry, we'd be happy for the chill time. (Read more about our Machu Picchu adventure; http://www.globalrunaways.com/runaway-to/machu-picchu-diy).
With all this time on our hands and after we'd acclimatized properly to the altitude, it was time to start exploring Cusco and the Sacred Valley. There are many tours available for both, however we decided to try our luck, once again, at the DIY option.
First up, we visited Saqsayhuaman which was a few hundred metres from our hostel. At the entrance you have the option to purchase 2 types of tickets, one for 70 soles, valid for one day that provides you entry into 4 sites around the city. The second, for 130 soles and valid for 10 days is the Boleto Turistico del Cusco, which gives you entry to 14 locations throughout the city and the sacred Valley. (Many websites advertise 16 but this has changed, October 2016).
Tickets can be purchased at any of the sites or by visiting COSITUC (Av. El Sol 103, #102, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri.)
Saqsayhuaman was the capital of the Incan empire and is notable for the construction of dry stone walls. No mortar was used, instead the stones were cut perfectly to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. As well as impressive architecture, the site offers fantastic view points over Cusco.
From Saqsayhuaman, you can hike to Q'enko, or like us, cheat and take the local bus (1 soles) to Tambomachay, then walk to Puka Pukara (literally across the road), and then another bus (1 sole) to Q'enko. From Q'enko, it was only a 15 minute, downhill walk back to the Plaza del Armas.
Tambomachay consists of a series of canals and aqueducts that we were left disappointed with. The little girl eating glue on the bus up there was more entertaining...
Puka Pukara, or the 'red fortress' is directly opposite Tambomachay. I didn't enjoy this site as much I would have liked to as my camera started playing up and I was getting cranky with it...so it was back on the bus as we headed down the hill to Q'enko.
Q'enko was rather interesting and it's history fascinating. It is believed that this site was used for rituals including sacrifices and mummification. Then it was back down the hill on foot to save a sole.
If DIY is not something your interested in, it is possible to visit all of these 4 locations, plus the following on a Cusco City Tour. Prices start from 20 soles per person.
We on the other hand, decided to enjoy the sunshine and walked between the Monument and museums. Tipon and Pikillaqta are located just outside the city but there are public buses available if you wish to visit them this way.
To finish our tourist ticket, we agreed the best way to see the Sacred Valley was with an organised tour. Tour start around 25 soles, but can be as expensive as 100. The higher prices generally include a buffet lunch and all the tours should provide a bilingual guide.
Our day started at 8.30am with our first stop being Pisac, an ancient citadel perched on a hill above the town of the same name. The site was incredibly large and well preserved.
Afterwards we were taken to a silver factory to learn about the jewelry making process before it was on to Urubamba for lunch. Now when we were purchasing our tickets, we were advised by the agent that the buffet lunch would 25 soles per person (USD $8) if paid in advance or more expensive on the day. On the bus however, the tour guide offered the same lunch package for 20 soles. I'm sure there more than a few people feeling ripped off.
We couldn't be swayed though and instead walked 5 minutes up the road and got a typical menu for 4 soles each (soup, met, rice, salad, and a drink), followed by an ice-cream for 2 soles. Our total combined lunch bill? USD $3.
Back on the bus we headed to Ollantaytambo, which is when things on the tour went to shit.
Ollantaytambo is another site with hillside terraces, a sun temple and water temple. There are loads of stairs which had us thinking the Incans were really the first to create the 'stair master'.
Our guide had been pretty awesome all day and kept reiterating the need to stick to the schedule so we had enough time in every location but, it seemed a family group of 4 and 3 annoying ladies from Brazil were above everyone else and they were consistently the last people back on the bus.
By the time we reached Chinchero, it was pitch black and we could hardly see a thing. We finally arrived back in Cusco at 8pm - 3 hours after our tour had officially ended.
To see Moray, the last place on the ticket, you can take public transport or pay extra to see it with your Sacred Valley tour. We decided to skip it altogether having already seen many ruins on our travels.
Other than ruins, Cusco has loads of bars, markets, massage parlours, etc to keep everyone busy. We had a slow, yet busy week during our visit and hope one day to go back and visit again.
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