Cusco from the hills
Cusco and the surrounding area is the obvious base to get aclimatised for high altitude activities such as mountain biking above sacred valley, and trekking the Inca trail to machu Pichu, due to the airport being the only 1 for some distance. Flying into Cusco is great as the runway is flanked on both sides by mountains and is very picturesque.
Cusco itself is a fantastic little town thats a great base for organising tours or just sittin back in a cafe on the main square or down a little side street and relaxin as the world goes by at a very relaxed pace. After wandering around the town and trying out a few of the bars and lookin at all maner of strange things in the little shops we headed up into the hills above the town to look at some of the archeological sites( don't let a local here you call them ruins is my advice, it appears to be offensive!!) starting with Qenqo which is a site that used to be used for ceromonial rituals, for good harvests.
village up in the mountains
There is a sacrifical table in 1 of the caves with an eerie light shining through a hole in the roof. From here we headed up further into the hills where we transfered to donkeys(sadly they looked like they were malnurished and not particullarly well looked after. All the same they carried us up into the hills through some breath taking scenery to another site where we stopped at what used to be someform of travellers resting point(more ruins ;)) and a waterfall that was also used as a place of worship. The ride back down the mountains gave better views than on the way up, with some seriously beautiful rugged mountains as far as the eye could see. We explored some more caves with further sacrifical tables, this time the eerie light could only be seen at night when the moon was full.
Also just outside cusco is Saqsaywaman which is probably the biggest site surrounding Cusco, and it's impressive just looking at the size of the stones used to build some of it and how they're shaped to fit together so that they withstand earthquakes. It may only be fairly modern in terms of other historical sites around the world, but for such a primitive area with no technology, the boys done good! it's well worth getting out of the cosy little cafe in cusco to explore the area even if its only to have a go on the natural stone slide there ;)
In cusco i went to a large indoor market thats worth exploring, but be warned if you have a weak stomach as there is virtually every part of numerous animals on sale and they're all on display along side loads of heaps of coloured spices etc.
There's lots of alsorts for sale in here, and a good cross section of locals and tourists browsing the many stalls for bargains.
Whilst in Cusco there were loads of churches and cathedrals to visit, and some great places to eat, with the local dishes of Guinea pig, and Alpaca very popular, and well when in Rome.........
After a few days in Cusco the sacred valley and a few activities was calling, namely wwr on the Urumbamba river, mountain biking high up in the mountains, and exploring more archeological sites (of which there apears to be no end of) with Ollantaytambo being the biggest and most impressive of them. The rafting was my 1st time, so i was excited to try it, and it didn't dissapoint, half a day floating down the river paddling like hell in between large gulps of vodka.
random street in Cusco
The scenery from the raft gives offers a fantastic way to see the surrounding countryside and i'd recommend it to anyone. The accomadation whilst in the sacred valley was at a hacienda which was fantastic, run by a guy who moved from cusco because it had become too touristy, and the atmosphere there was perfect. The place was so homely with great food, and great hospitality from the people and mackaws (who were free to fly where they liked but chose to stay, as i think i would in their position!) At dinner the host would come out with some local brew pass it around and regail stories of how cusco used to be, or of his time travelling the world back in the 60s & 70s.
The mountain biking was the part of the trip i was probably looking forward to most, including Machu pichu (strange i know) and omg it was awesome.
shy farm kids
We headed up to around 4500m above sea level, so about the same as what i had jumped out of a plane from, and started to cycle across huge open planes at the top of the sacred valley. This was pretty hard going to start with, even on the flat you find yourself soon out of breath. Once i had gotten used to it and could enjoy it we basically headed down hill through the mountains for a couple of hrs only occasionally having to cycle uphill. The track was fantastic, ranging from some single track with sheer drops you wouldn't recover from falling off of on 1 side and mountain the other, to wide open rock strewn planes and tracks where the locals herded lamas. Along the way we passed through a couple of little towns, a salt farm(which looked crazy with the white in total contrast to the rocks,we also stopped at some obligatory ceremonial sites,which seam to be a bit like mcdonalds in the rest of the world-everywhere! After a full days blasting through the mountains eating dust, the hacienda was the perfect place to wind down in, listening to the mackaws squawking away, while drinking something quite potent to soothe the leg muscles and help ya sleep!