We based ourselves in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire in southeastern Peru, in order to explore the nearby Sacred Valley of the Incas as well as Machu Picchu. Cusco is at an elevation of around 3,400m. Flying directly in from Lima which is at sea level doesn’t allow for the body to slowly acclimatize.
I didn’t feel very affected by the altitude (3,400m) at first, just a little short of breath. But as the day went on, I felt the headache coming on. By evening, I was cold and lethargic and loss my appetite. The next morning, I had to cancel my hike because I threw up (mostly water since I haven’t eaten) a few times. Fortunately, by the evening of the 2nd day, I felt almost normal. From then on, I was fine with the altitude. Altitude affects everyone differently. I took Diamox for a few days already prior to arriving in Cusco, and I am curious as to whether it didn’t really help or I would be in even worse shape if I didn’t take it…..
Cusco is a small town and very walkable. Take it easy the first day especially when walking up the hills. We spent a day just wandering around town and checking out the numerous shops and cafes.
We paid a visit to combined sacred sites of Qoricancha and Santo Domingo in town. It demonstrates the clash between the Inca and the Spaniards where the church of West sits atop and encloses the Inca temple altogether. The Temple of the Sun at Ooricancha was the most lavish temple of the Inca Empire. During its heyday, over 4,000 priests and their attendants lived on the premises. All the walls were lined with gold panels and there were solid gold altars as well as life size gold statues of deities, animals, and even plants. Most of the wealth was looted or removed to pay the Spanish during the conquest, after which the temple walls served as the foundation of the Santo Domingo Convent. After an earthquake in 1953, a large section of the cloister was removed to reveal some of the original chambers of the temple beneath.
After a slow-paced two days, we started to feel “normal” again. We decided not to venture too far from town. In the morning, we went up to Sacsayhuaman, pronounced “Sex-say-wha-men”. It is a citadel on the outskirts of Cusco and takes about 10 mins by car or you can hike there from the main square in Cusco. It is a great place to admire the Inca construction techniques. It is amazing how precisely these large boulders are cut and fitted tightly together without using mortar. Our guide demonstrated how one cannot even slip a piece of paper between the pieces.
In the afternoon, we went to Chinchero which is a small Andean village about 30 km outside of Cusco. The village is surrounded by agricultural terraces where local crops are grown.
We stopped by a traditional textiles shop where they demonstrated how natural dyes were made from plants and minerals.
We scheduled out trip so that we are able to visit Pisaq, a small Peruvian village, on a Sunday for its well known market day. We started our visit up at the Inca Remains of Pisaq with ruins of altars, temples, ceremonial platforms, and walked down along a footpath passing the agricultural terraces built on the steep hillside before arriving at the traditional Andean Market. The narrow streets of the market are filled with colorful ceramics, jewelry and textiles as well as fruits and vegetables and grains.
After wandering around the markets at Pisaq for several hours, we headed to Ollantaytambo which is a town that has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century. It was an Inca stronghold during the Spanish Conquest and served as both a temple and a fortress. We hiked up the terraces of the Fortress or Temple Hill which is the main access to the ceremonial center. Looking around one can see that the site was still undergoing construction when the site was abandoned.