Fairytale city Cusco and Trek to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Travel Blog

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Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Ever wondered how it would actually be to visit a picture postcard or fairytale city? A city with cobbled stone lanes, small heritage buildings and churches which are hundreds of years old. A city tucked away in the mountains with a grand plaza buzzing with activity……Welcome to Cusco, one of the cutest little places I have visited, perched at a height of 11,000 feet in the Andes mountains of Peru.

 

Peru is almost synonymous with Machu Picchu as most people travel to Peru to visit this “Lost city of the Incas”. Machu Picchu in the local Quechua language means “Old Mountain”.

Cathedral, Plaza de Armas

 

As Peruvians take pride in the gastronomic delights of their country I would like to describe my visit to Peru as a delicious three course meal. Cusco would be the Appetizer/Starter, Machu Picchu, the main course and Lima the dessert!

 

I landed in Cusco on Jan 2nd 2010 and after checking into my hotel proceeded straight to the office of Peru Treks, where I had to pay the balance money for my Inca Trail Trek.

Plaza de Armas
Five minutes in that office and you knew it was a very organized and professional outfit. I had a short briefing about the 4 day trek and one of our guides, Lizandro, took me through the schedule. Lizandro would later prove that he is not only pleasant and charming but also very helpful and knowledgeable.

 

The main task done, I wandered around the main plaza (Plaza de Armas). This was sheer beauty in the mountains. You instantly feel it’s a place you can live for 3 to 6 months and literally go back in time. Normally, I am not a fan of places that are too touristy but this place was so cute it overcame all the “touristy tags”.

 

People usually end up treating Cusco as a place to stock up for the Trek and getting used to high altitudes before starting the trek. There are scores of small shops where you can buy anything and everything. You can spend hours roaming the streets of Cusco and unless one is short of time, taking a taxi is a waste of your holiday.

On my way to Peru Treks office
This is a city which needs to be explored on foot.

 

I had already walked for two hours and could suddenly hear loud protests. I looked around and didn’t see anyone. Within seconds I realized they were coming from within….my stomach had put me on notice. With a very light breakfast and no veg food on the flight from Lima I was feeling hungry and had to hunt or veg food.

 

Cusco seemed to be a great place for veggies. All restaurants have veg food but discovering one which was a tiny cozy place run by a Costa Rican of Iranian origin, practicing Yoga and worshipping Krishna was my prize catch for the day. I was overjoyed as the place was just 2 minutes walking distance from my hotel. It was called Prasada. I sat at the counter and chatted up the couple running the place whose background really intrigued me.

Still searching for their office!
The food was great and I promised I would return for dinner the next day as well. I had a day free in Cusco before my Trek started on the 4th of Jan and decided to take a one day city tour.

 

I was so looking forward to the trek that I am guilty of remembering very little about my day tour of the city. Other than Qorikancha, Tempe of the Sun and Saqsayhuaman ruins I don’t remember much. These are historical places loaded with stories of Inca life and Spanish plunder.

 

As promised I went back to Prasada that night for dinner and got packing for the long awaited trek to Machu Picchu.

Found it finally:) and with Lizandro briefing me about the trek
Ensi and Victor who owned Prasada and folks I met there had already given me packing tips. Cusco- My appetizer was to give way to the main course! I was scheduled to be picked up anytime between 5.20 and 6.00 a.m. the next morning.

 

Inca Trail, Day 1 (Jan 4)

 

I was picked up at the hotel at 5.45 a.m. by a bus driver who could give James Bond a run for his money. The way he maneuvered the big bus in the narrow lanes of Cusco was worth experiencing.

Getting our gear in order
While going on tours I like being picked up in the beginning. While it does mean spending more time in the bus I find it amply rewarding. Its fun wondering who or what kind of people are going to be part of my group at the next pick up point! Almost like opening a fortune cookie.

 

Within the next hour everyone in our group of 16 was on board and it was a nice mix of people, all from North America. I was the only one from India and was happy that my group was full of young spirited people, all raring to go. There were two groups of 16 from Peru Treks and the other one was full of older guys. Being a veggie came in handy that day and kept me out of the other more serious looking group. There were three more veggies in our group and probably none in the other so logically it made sense to move me into the younger group than cook veg food just for me in the other group!

 

Our final stop within the city was at the Peru Treks office where we were joined by our guides, porters and chefs! Our guides Victor and Lizandro introduced themselves and we were on our way to “km 82” the starting point of our trek.

Our group at the starting point "KM 82"
On the way we stopped for breakfast and I bought my walking stick too. It cost me just 8 soles but will prove to be worth over 800 in the coming days! After passing through the lovely villages of Chinchero, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo we reached “km 82”.

 

The trek starts at the bridge over the Vilcanota river. The first day is more like a practice or training for the coming days. The bad roads back home seemed like a blessing in disguise and I was quite comfortable with the gradients which were not very demanding. We stopped for lunch which was absolutely awesome and would serve as a great motivation to reach campsites in good time!

 

As we moved higher we met fellow trekkers and porters from different tour companies, countries and beliefs all united with the sole purpose of enjoying the long journey of about 43 kms to Machu Picchu.

The awesome trek begins!
Nature truly rewards its lovers and with every 100 mts of altitude conquered it revealed a bit more of its beauty. Lush green mountains, clouds hanging around the peaks and breathtaking valleys were taking away any signs of tiredness. It was already so beautiful that I wondered what lie in store when we reach higher.

 

In a few hours we would be closing in on 3,000 mts (10,000 feet) and Wayllabamba was our stop for the night. The porters had already gone ahead and set up our tents. We were right in the centre of nature and it felt like pure bliss. Dinner was served and once again more delicious than expected.

 

We chatted a bit around the dinner table and soon it was time to call it a day but before that our guide Victor gave us a short briefing of the next days plan and left us with a couple of jokes, he insisted we hear. His expressions and passion for telling jokes more than made up for content and we went into our tents and tried to get as cozy as possible in our sleeping bags.

 

We had trekked about 11 kms!

 

Inca Trail, Day 2 (Jan 5) 

 

At five thirty in the morning our guides were going to each tent waking up everyone with a nice hot cup of tea/coffee.

The incredible view begins
It was time to freshen up, have breakfast and start day 2 of the trek. Breakfast was as good a dinner and we were getting used to being pampered.

 

Before we left the campsite all of us including the porters and chefs gathered and introduced ourselves. It was a nice gesture and we also got to know a little bit more about our group members. The previous day I had already chatted a bit with everyone especially with Marsha and Brandon, Jess and JP.

 

We left the camp around 7ish knowing well that this was to be the most demanding but also the most rewarding day. We would reach the highest point of the trek at 4,200 mts (13,800 feet). The climb was getting steeper and the trail treacherous. Some stretches were really tricky and others warned you that one wrong move and you could be hurtling down the valleys.

Near a campsite
Soon it started raining and one had to be very careful not to slip. Ponchos came out but within minutes were taken off as one would feel really hot inside as the warmth generated by the body was getting trapped. The hot sun, the cold breeze, rains... we had to brave it all during the day.

 

Victor, our guide, had repeatedly told us to take our own pace but didn’t realize what he had bargained for! I starting lagging behind and not only was I taking my own pace but was also taking away Victors pace. Luckily none of us suffered from altitude sickness but the steep climb and heat was sapping every bit of energy. My first trek and I seemed to be in the middle of the mother of all treks!! My team was well ahead barring the all girl team of Jenny, Kym and Vanessa. The front was led by Lizandro and Victor was taking care of us at the back. He refused to ahead and join others insisting that it was his responsibility to see that I reached safely. I told him more than once not to worry coz I might take more time but I will surely see him at campsite. He wouldn’t relent and stayed with me all the way. We got talking and it was nice to know a little bit more about him and life there in general. 

 

The terrain was becoming more and more spectacular and we passed by some waterfalls and a beautiful cloud forest.

At 14,000 feet!
I was trekking slowly but enjoying more of the landscape than others I felt. I was pushing my body to the limit and wanted to see how it held up. I might even consider demanding a reduction in my medical insurance premium after completing this trek! If I’m fit enough to get through this I should be fit enough for almost anything!

 

When we reached Llulluchapampa at 12,000 feet I thought that was the top but Victor, who was motivating me all the while, said that ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ was two hours away! I had to call into service the reserve tank of my energy to brave the scorching sun and some very cold winds.

 

My mantra during the entire day was “Treks are for completing and not for competing” and this kept me going together with encouragements from my guides and friends especially Marsha and Jess. Thanks guys for all the kind words and support!

 

Late afternoon and the moment of truth had arrived! I had finally made it to the peak.

Dead Womans Pass (Can you spot the shape of a woman lying down?...head in the right hand corner)
The view was awesome and something I felt I had earned. Looking down from 14,000 feet cannot be described in words. It has to be experienced. No picture can do justice to the feeling you get when you are there on top. I knew this was a moment I would treasure for the rest of my life.

 

It was brief stop as I was already running late and still had to cover the 2,000 feet descent from the top to reach our campsite at Pacamayo. Walking down after such an arduous trek can be demanding as you knees start buckling. My walking stick was worth its weight in gold and saved me from many a slippery rock.

 

I had the constant company of Victor until I made it to the campsite. I was so exhausted that after a late lunch I went straight to my tent and just crashed on my sleeping mat. I told Victor I would skip dinner and wake up the next day. Every muscle in my body seemed to be thanking me for the rest I gave them that night!

 

Another 12 kms were out of the way!

 

Inca Trail, Day 3 (Jan 6)

 

The long sleep I had seemed to have worked wonders.

A porter on his way
I felt fully charged and fresh. It was as if my body wanted to say thank you for the rest. On my way to Runkurakay I felt I could even take on someone trekking on steroids! Needless to add, this sudden burst of energy allowed me to reach our first stop much before the others who were pleasantly surprised to see me in good shape!

 

Day 3 was fun. It was full of amazing landscapes, snow capped mountains in sight and steep and risky descents. We stopped by many ruins with our guides giving us a little bit of history and also allowing us to catch our breath. We saw a lot of tourists converging at the various ruins and it was wonderful to say hello to many fellow trekkers we had passed during the last two days! I remember in particular an elderly couple with a little girl who was barely 5 or 6 yrs old. It must be a great age to start trekking.

 

The magnificent cloud forests, orchids and fern trees were making the journey unforgettable. What an amazing place to be I was telling myself. No cell phones, no television, no newspaper, no internet….. this was sheer bliss. There was nothing between you and nature, between you and your dreams, between you and your thoughts.

Runkurakay
It seemed to be the perfect place for couples to bond. For the moment though, I was making sure that the bond between my shoes and my legs were in place. My shoes were slipping from all the uneven rocks on the way and it was time for a little bit of rest before reaching Winay Wayna, the last campsite before Machu Picchu. It was Lizandro’s turn today to give me company as we reached campsite a few hours after the others had reached. He was a funny guy and helped me practice a little of Spanish too!

 

This place was the coolest in terms of infrastructure. It had power, good toilets and showers and a restaurant as well. I had a hot shower, freshened up and got ready for dinner. Today’s dinner was special as it was our last dinner together. We were surprised with a nice big cake which we had to cut and it tasted so good! This would be the last time we would be meeting the porters and the chefs so it was also time to say good bye to them for the wonderful job they had done. They had absolutely earned their tips which we were happy to give.

 

The next day we had to leave very early to try and get to Machu Picchu before sunrise.

Runkurakay circular ruins and look-out post

 

We had trekked 15 kms today!

 

Inca Trail, Day 4 (Jan 7)

 

We were all very excited about the final day. This was the moment we were waiting for. The trail that morning was quite easy and just about 5 kms except for the final flight of around 50 steps which was absolutely vertical and you needed to scale up the wall like Spiderman! The final pass at Intipunku (Sun Gate) had been reached and the whole of Machu Picchu was before us. A sight no diary, blog or picture could do justice to.

 

We soon arrived at the ruins and after leaving our bags and grabbing some coffee at the restaurant started our guided tour of the ruins.

Ruins of Machu Picchu
The architecture was mind blowing. I was amazed by the fact that hundreds of years ago generations had spent their entire lifetime building and guarding this place. The workmanship was precise and I was looking at stone structures which, without mortar/concrete had stood the test of time, braved earthquakes and fought everything else nature could throw at them. They were all hand crafted stone by stone. In today’s age we could call it a hand crafted designer kingdom.

 

There were innumerable photo ops and literally no end to the number of pictures one could take. Our guides told us some amazing stories about the lives and times of the Incas and we were proud to witness a part of history which someday would probably be buried yet again and lost in the annals of time.

 

We had a few hours to explore the place on our own as well and then take the bus to Aguas Calientes where we would be having our last lunch together at a pre-appointed time and place. The cute little restaurant next to the tracks of Peru rail was the perfect place to say good bye to one of our wonderful guides and collect our bags which the porters had already left at the restaurant.

Inca homes
Victor would accompany us to Cusco. We took the Peru rail train to Ollantaytambo and finally a bus to Cusco.

 

In a few hours we approached Cusco and said good bye’s to all our group members as they left the bus at different points in thecity. I entered my room in my hotel and was thrilled to see a real bed after the sleeping bag experience for three nights. The bath tub in the washroom was the perfect place to relax those aching muscles and literally soak the incredible trek I just came back from.

 

As I was preparing to sleep I got a call that night from the local tour lady asking me if I was interested in a full day tour of the sacred valley the next day.

Piicture perfect landscape
I had no plans to move out of my bed the next day and felt like telling her “forget the sacred valley I wouldn’t be interested even if it was a tour of Jennifer Annistons valley”!!

 

Well, that then was the main course, in one word "PERFECT". Lima was to be the dessert but more about Lima in my next. 

 

Vyne says:
Muchas Gracias Yadi...yes cant wait to write about Lima...my dessert :)
Posted on: Apr 19, 2010
yadilitta says:
Great blog, Vyne!!!! I love how you described everything and also the 3 course meal, hahaha. Lima is the dessert! Cool!!! Can't wait to read the next chapters of your adventure.
Posted on: Apr 18, 2010
Vyne says:
Thanks Mari...you must visit this place soon and share your experiences too:)
Posted on: Apr 18, 2010
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Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Cathedral, Plaza de Armas
Cathedral, Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas
On my way to Peru Treks office
On my way to Peru Treks office
Still searching for their office!
Still searching for their office!
Found it finally:) and with Lizand…
Found it finally:) and with Lizan…
Getting our gear in order
Getting our gear in order
Our group at the starting point K…
Our group at the starting point "…
The awesome trek begins!
The awesome trek begins!
The incredible view begins
The incredible view begins
Near a campsite
Near a campsite
At 14,000 feet!
At 14,000 feet!
Dead Womans Pass (Can you spot the…
Dead Womans Pass (Can you spot th…
A porter on his way
A porter on his way
Runkurakay
Runkurakay
Runkurakay circular ruins and look…
Runkurakay circular ruins and loo…
Ruins of Machu Picchu
Ruins of Machu Picchu
Inca homes
Inca homes
Piicture perfect landscape
Piicture perfect landscape
Oops sorry i forgot what this part…
Oops sorry i forgot what this par…
Cusco airport
Cusco airport
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas
US consulate in Cusco
US consulate in Cusco
Christmas time
Christmas time
A major junction in Cusco city
A major junction in Cusco city
Victor explaining the Trek route
Victor explaining the Trek route
Lets start at the very beginning!
Lets start at the very beginning!
still smiling....its only day 1
still smiling....its only day 1
first set of ruins
first set of ruins
lunch time!
lunch time!
the entire group including porters…
the entire group including porter…
what a great age to start trekking
what a great age to start trekking
half dead me with Victor at the su…
half dead me with Victor at the s…
the trail that took us to the top
the trail that took us to the top
more of the same trail
more of the same trail
miss a step and you too will be hi…
miss a step and you too will be h…
cloud cover
cloud cover
an easy part of the trail
an easy part of the trail
guide lizandro and me
guide lizandro and me
on cloud nine
on cloud nine
valley view
valley view
can you spot the little train belo…
can you spot the little train bel…
our group
our group
a wrap around the mountains
a wrap around the mountains
llamas of course
llamas of course
the main entrance to machu picchu
the main entrance to machu picchu
the cute little train track
the cute little train track
the rail track has cute restaurant…
the rail track has cute restauran…
our train tickets for getting back…
our train tickets for getting bac…
the cozy veggie place
the cozy veggie place
veggie menu!
veggie menu!
the lane where my hotel was located
the lane where my hotel was located
ensi and victor who own the veggie…
ensi and victor who own the veggi…
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photo by: NazfromOz