Cuzco

Images of Machu Picchu

In my post “Machu Picchu–A Practical View” I explained the logistics of our visit. In this post I’ll share some of the photos of this incredible engineering marvel, hidden for centuries (thank goodness!) from the world’s view. A North American archeologist and explorer, Hiram Bingham, “discovered” Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911 (locals of course knew of its existence).

A view of the urban area of Machu Picchu – the ceremonial area is on the left and the residential area is on the right.

Construction

I was surprised by the varied construction techniques. In some places, each stone is fit perfectly with those next to it. In other cases, the construction is more rough, not unlike what one sees in medieval castles in Europe. The Inca understood that trapezoidal shapes are stronger than square shapes, and doorways, windows and carved niches are almost all trapezoidal in shape.

The main entrance to the city of Machu Picchu

Trapezoidal entryways and doors are found throughout Machu Picchu, which were much stronger and more resistant to earthquake damage.

Examples of varied construction techniques in the walls.

An interesting wall–the lower part is constructed of carefully cut and fitted stones and the upper part is much more hastily built.

Another example of the varied building techniques–note the trapezoidal niches and post extensions in the background.

Water System

There is a spring on the hill of Machu Picchu and the Incas utilized it to the fullest extent to provide water to the crops and the inhabitants.  They used the law of gravity to provide a running water supply.

Carved channels for water flow–another engineering masterpiece.

Temple of the Sun

One of the most important buildings in Machu Picchu is the Temple of the Sun. It is quite unique in its construction due to the rounded walls, in addition to the windows that align with the summer and winter solstices.

The Temple of the Sun in the foreground–the windows are aligned perfectly with the summer and winter solstices. This building was Hiram Bingham’s first discovery at Machu Picchu. In the distance are the terraced agricultural fields.

Stairway and chambers directly below the Temple of the Sun. Named the “Royal Tomb” by Hiram Bingham, although the function is unknown.

The Agricultural Area

Machu Picchu is divided into two main zones, the urban zone and the agricultural zone, which is the purpose of the extensive terraces.  A birds-eye view would show that the majority of land area of Machu Picchu was terraced (I didn’t have an airplane!).

Looking up at some of the many terraces.

The Urban Zone

The urban zone is really two main areas:  The Sacred Plaza with temples and ceremonial places, and the residential area, which has 109 stairways containing about 3,000 steps, and a sophisticated canal system.  This city clearly had great urban planners!

The Sacred Plaza

Temple of the Three Windows, in the ceremonial part of the city, called the Sacred Plaza. Note that these windows are carved from huge stones.

The near-perfect stone work on the outside of the “Main Temple” – thought to be a temple due to the extremely careful construction

Residential Area

We found the residential side of the city quieter (fewer tourists) than the ceremonial/Sacred Plaza side, probably partly due to the vast size of the residential area.

A view of the residential area, agricultural terraces, and the winding dirt road leading up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.

A view (in the opposite direction from the picture above) of the residential area, additional terraces, and Waynapicchu (in the background).

One of my favorite images of Machu Picchu, looking toward the residential area.

If you have the opportunity to visit this world wonder, do it!

Information Source: Machu Picchu, Sacred City of the Incas, by Mayer Joel Abanto, 2009.

Inca Sites near Cuzco

In the hills above and north of the city of Cuzco are several great Inca ruins. Saqsayhuamán, Tambomachay, Puka Pukara and Q’enqo are all quite near each other, and just off the road on the way to Pisac. Allow a half-day to visit these sites. A tourist ticket to visit these ruins and a museum in Cuzco, plus a number of sites in the Sacred Valley costs 130 NS (about $46, for non-locals). The ticket can be purchased in Cuzco or at your first stop. Unfortunately it’s “all or nothing,” you cannot purchase individual site tickets.

Inca sites near Cuzco

The tour agencies around the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) in Cuzco charge 25 NS for a “city” tour which includes the four sites above, and one site in Cuzco [the Temple of the Sun (called Qorikancha) in the Santo Domingo Church]. Please note that Qorikancha costs an extra 10 NS. For some reason, all the tours seem to be in the afternoon, and by the time we got to the last site it was getting dark (and raining). If I had it to do over again, I would recommend just hiring a taxi for the day to go to the local sites near Cuzco, which would allow you to proceed at your own pace, and visit during the less crowded time of day.

This church (Santo Domingo) is built on the Inca Temple of the Sun, and parts of the original structure remain inside

Sacsayhuamán

The most impressive site is Sacsayhuamán, which must have been incredible before much of it was destroyed by the Spaniards. Even still, huge, perfectly cut stone walls remain. There are also excellent views of Cuzco from Sacsayhuamán. The construction on this site began in the 1440’s, and it’s believed 20,000 workers were required to cut and assemble the massive stone work.

A view of the walls of Sacsayhuaman (Cuzco in the distance)

The massive cut stones of Sacsayhuaman

Tambomachay

We also visited Tambomachay, which is further along on the same road north of Cuzco. According to our guide, there are 320 Inca sites around Cuzco, 90 of which are water-related, and Tambomachay is the most important. It contains precise stone work over a natural spring, and may have been used for rituals involving water.

The Inca site of Tambomachay

A view of the fountains at Tambomachay

There are two other sites along this same road, Puka Pukara and Q’enqo, which are part of the tourist ticket. Right before it started raining hard, I got a picture of Puka Pukara in the last few seconds of sun.  Very little is known about this ruin, it is likely that it was a fort protecting the entrance to the Sacred Valley sites. We drove past Q’enqo since it was getting dark and pouring rain (after a beautiful day), but this is a site with zig-zag channels, which were believed to be for llama blood and depending on the flow of the blood, a prediction on the quality of the harvest would be made.

The fort of Puka Pukara

On the way back to the main plaza in Cuzco, our tour bus took us to some tourist shops, with a large variety of goods (near Q’enqo).  We found lots of alpaca sweaters, hats, gloves, and many other clothing items, as well as various trinkets. These shops were some of the better ones we saw on our trip. If you want high quality items, visit the store Arte Peru Joyerias, just to the west of the Plaza de Armas. This is where we bought our authentic baby alpaca sweaters.

Cuzco – A Great Base for Exploring the Inca World

The Cathedral of Cuzco at night (built in 1550; interesting 16th century artwork and artifacts in this cathedral)

Cuzco, Peru is known as the jump-off spot for visiting Machu Picchu. However, it is an interesting town in and of itself and there are several impressive Inca ruins very close to the city. In fact, parts of the city are built on Inca foundations, including the huge cathedral. Although there are tourists milling around the town, it still feels like a “real” Peruvian city, with locals going about their daily business, and buying and selling food and other items in some interesting markets.

One of the many markets in Cuzco--this one is selling cuy (guinea pig)!

A local woman and her child in Cuzco

There are many flights daily between Lima and Cuzco—flight lasts about one hour. I watched the landscape change from the barren desert mountains of Lima to the green, cultivated and forested mountains surrounding Cuzco. Even though Cuzco is a fairly large city, I found the air very clear and refreshing compared to Lima.

Cuzco is about a one-hour flight from Lima

Travel information about Cuzco and surrounding area:

  • One USD = 2.8 Peruvian nuevo soles (NS) as of October 2011.
  • A tourist ticket to visit the close-by Inca ruins and a museum in Cuzco, plus a number of sites in the Sacred Valley costs 130 NS (for non-locals). The ticket can be purchased in Cuzco or at your first site. Unfortunately it’s “all or nothing,” you cannot purchase individual site tickets.
  • Plan to stay at least three days in Cuzco: Day 1-visit Inca sites close to Cuzco and in the town–called the “city tour” which doesn’t really cover much of the city itself; Day 2-a train trip to Machu Picchu; Day 3-sites around the Sacred Valley. These three day trips will be covered in separate posts.

    View of Cuzco from the Inca site of Saqsayhuaman

  • There are tour agencies everywhere around the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) in Cuzco. We did a “city” tour for 25 NS per person and a Sacred Valley tour for 35 NS per person (the tour fee covered transportation only, and fees will be similar at all tour agencies). If I had it to do over again, I would recommend just hiring a taxi for the day to go to the local sites near Cuzco, which would allow you to proceed at your own pace. For the Sacred Valley visit, a tour agency is probably best—hiring a taxi for the distances covered would be very expensive, and since directions/signs are not very clear, renting a car on your own might be somewhat challenging; in addition, trying to park a rental car in Cuzco would be a nightmare—the old city streets are very narrow, and I did not see any parking garages.

    Architecture in Cuzco (note the decorative wooden balconies)

    Evening at the Plaza de Armas (main square) in Cuzco

  • Restaurants. There is a huge variety and we found ourselves drawn to two restaurants with very good quality dishes: Tratoria Adriano and Chef Maggie, which are just off the Plaza de Armas. Both restaurants serve Italian fare and other dishes.
  • Hotels. Many options in all price ranges. We found Llipimpac hotel on Booking.com for $61/night for a triple. It was decent, with hot water (not always a given if you travel on a budget) and breakfast. They even had a large selection of DVDs you can borrow for free if you feel like spending an evening in your room (we found many in English).

    Llipimpac Hotel, Cuzco

  • Be prepared for all kinds of weather at this altitude (10,500 feet). When the sun is out, Cuzco is warm. When the sun goes down, or in cloudy weather, you’ll want a jacket. Rain showers are common, so bring an umbrella or rain jacket. We did not notice any ill effects from the altitude, but if you do, vendors sell coca tea, candy and cookies everywhere.

    Getting a shoe shine