SOUTHERN PERU. THIRD PART: CHOQUEQUIRAO - MACHU PICCHU

We are talking about that Peru that everyone wants to know. The one that “hides” more archaeological sites of one of the most extraordinary and powerful civilizations of all time. Which is home today to the descendants of that empire. The most Inca Peru. To this must be added the unparalleled beauty of this area of the Andes. You cannot miss these places:

 

  • Choquequirao

  • Cusco y Sacsayhuamán

  • Valle Sagrado

  • Machu Picchu

Choquequirao

The best kept secret of the Incas can breathe freely, it will not be overwhelmed by tourism (yet). And that is precisely its greatness, which provides much of the magic that this place has. In the middle of the mountain range, far from any town and road, is Choquequirao. Immersed in the purest nature. To get here first you need to travel to San Pedro de Cachora (a small town in a detour more or less close to Abancay, on the road that links Andahuaylas and Cusco). Then make a small "sacrifice", walking for 30 kilometers (one way) through the most beautiful landscapes of the universe. Your legs will end up exhausted up and down mountains, but your mind and soul will be jumping with joy at the sight of those snowy peaks, valleys and forests. Much of the path runs parallel to the Apurímac River, encased in a spectacular canyon.

 

A minimum of two nights of camping is required on this route. You can camp where you want, but there are not many flat areas to set up a tent... On the other hand, there are a couple of campsites: one just before crossing the river on a kind of chairlift (this campground is free), and another at the entrance of the archaeological site (for a fee). If you wake up early (and you are in shape) you can sleep both nights at the campsite before the river, so you can walk lighter the round trip of this stretch (leaving part of yur luggage inside the tent). In Cachora there are some hostels to recover strength.

Cusco and Sacsayhuamán

The capital of the Inca Empire, today the "Rome of America", is one of the most beautiful and interesting populations of Peru (and the continent). Here the Incas settled, being "The Navel of the World", the Spaniards occupied the city after killing Atahualpa (last Inca King), and Machu Picchu was discovered nearby at the beginning of the last century. Despite the looting and destruction to which it was subjected by the invaders, despite its mostly replaced (now colonial) architecture, and in spite of the current massive tourism, the Inca spirit that the streets of Cusco reflect, its people (descendants of the Incas) and its mountains are unique. Much of the blame lies in its proximity to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. A lot to learn, discover and do:

 

  • Stroll through the beautiful colonial center, imagining how different it was one day.

  • Food and local handicrafts markets.

  • Visit some museum (perhaps the most interesting is the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art).

  • Inca ruins of Sacsayhuamán, on top of a hill on the outskirts of the city. The stones of this Inca citadel were plundered and used for the construction of houses and churches in Cusco.

  • Excursions to the mountains and surrounding archaeological sites (way better on your own). There are dozens of excursions, among the most popular are: the Inca Trail (43 km to Machu Picchu, it is so popular that is only possible with a reservation); the Sacred Valley (Písac, Urubamba, Moray, Ollantaytambo); Machu Picchu from Santa Teresa (10 km) or Hydroelectric Plant (2 km); Nevado Salcantay (6271 meters, two alternative routes, both around 55 km); Choquequirao (described above); Tambomachay and Pukapukara; Q'enqo; the Ausangate mountain (6484 masl, around 80 km).

 

Useful tips to visit the ruins. You can buy a tourist ticket (valid for 10 days) that includes the entry to all archaeological sites in the area (except Machu Picchu). Out much cheaper than paying entrance in each place separately. It can be purchased at Cosituc (Avenida del Sol) or at the sites themselves. Also, if you can get an international student card the price will be lower (this applies for Machu Picchu as well).

 

Note. If you are in Cusco on June 21-24, you are in luck: Inti Raymi celebration, the exciting Inca New Year.

Sacred Valley

Great area a few kilometers north of Cusco that includes two of the most beautiful and best preserved Inca archaeological sites of the Inca culture: Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The scenery, its populations and the other sites (Moray, for instance) makes it even more amazing. In addition, the route is a preamble to the star attraction as traveler heading to Machu Picchu. You can go directly by train from Ollantaytambo, but it is cheaper (and more adventurous) to take a combi (small bus) to Santa Teresa, then walk (very nice walk) to Aguas Calientes.

Machu Picchu

Finally, what everyone has ever dreamed of visiting: Machu Picchu! The Lost City of the Incas, the most famous site on Earth, one of the 7 Wonders of the World... People from all over the world come to Peru to discover this mysterious site, which was almost certainly one of the most important ceremonial centers of the Incas. Its location over the green mountains and its magnificent conservation is what has given it its fame. Enjoy a whole day calmly touring the citadel and climbing the mountain of Machu Picchu, from where you can admire that spectacle and imagine the lifestyle of this fascinating civilization.

 

There are several ways to get to Aguascalientes, a town created at the foot of Machu Picchu for tourist purposes: train from Cusco, train from Ollantaytambo, walking from Santa Teresa (8 km) or the Hydroelectric Power Plant (2 km), through the Inca Trail. From Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu you can go by bus (a bit expensive), or on foot: what is better than a nice one-hour-morning-walk before knowing this wonder.

 

Note: for obvious reasons (too much tourists), the ascent to Huayna Picchu is limited to a few people per day, requiring paying a permit well in advance for it.

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