16 June 2011

the emperor's new groove

My spring break took place during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, this year. I had been wanting to visit Peru and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu for a while, so I decided to take advantage of my time off and do just that!

After flying from Costa Rica to Lima, I flew from Lima to Cusco, which was the capital of the Inca Empire. I arrived in Cusco a few days before my trek to acclimatize to the altitude (3,400 meters). The city of Cusco is beautiful, and I was happy to spend some time there. And the altitude really did make it hard to breathe at first, so I'm glad I got there early!

Here are some photos I took while wandering around the city:

Iglesia La Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus), at Plaza de Armas

Holy week paraders outside Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Mercy)

Women dressed in traditional garb, also outside Iglesia de la Merced

Rain clouds rolling in

Hillside above Plaza de Armas (If you look closely at the very top of the hill, you can see Cusco's version of Rio de Janiero's famous "Christ the Redeemer" statue.)

On my first day in Cusco, I had a delicious lunch of croquetas con cuy (potato croquettes stuffed with guinea pig). Guinea pig is a delicacy in the Andes.

The day before my trek, I went on a tour of the Sacred Valley, to see some Inca sites. I met some others from my trekking group on the tour. I also met some llamas and alpacas! (If you're curious about the difference between them, llamas are bigger, have longer ears, straighter backs, and higher-set tails than alpacas.)
Seeing the alpacas reminded me of a time in Spring 2010 when I was driving to work in Texas, and had to swerve to avoid hitting a freshly-shorn alpaca that was running across the highway! The funniest part was that it was running out of a trailer park. You have to wonder...
I loved these gorgeous purplish-blue flowers. Does anyone know what they are? The mountains in the background are beautiful as well.

View of the Urubamba River

Terraces at Pisac

Some of the more than 3,000 tombs looted by the Spanish conquistadors

It was seriously cold there. I forgot to take into account that since Peru is south of the equator, their seasons are opposite ours, and they are in winter now!

Climbing to the top of the ruins

Cool stonework

After lunch, we visited the ruins at Ollantaytambo. If you look closely at the center of the mountain, you can see the stone profile of the Inca's most important god, Apu Kon-Tiki Viracocha.

The Incas chose to build their most sacred temple on this hill opposite the stone face (you can see the beginnings in the top middle of this photo), but the conquistadors came before they could finish. On the tour, I learned that if you look at these three cities (Pisac, Cusco, and Ollantaytambo) from above, they are shaped like an adder, a puma, and a condor, respectively. These three animals were sacred to the Incas and represented the underworld, the current world, and the upper world.

Last, we stopped at the village of Chinchero.

In this church, we saw beautiful paintings and gilding work. Our guide described baby Jesus in one of the paintings by saying, "Look at him...he looks like a tamale." Totally cracked me up!

In Chinchero, we visited an artisans co-op. The women there showed us how they collect wool, clean it, spin it, dye it, and weave it.

On our way back to Cusco, we passed a parade in honor of Senor de los Temblores, the patron saint of Cusco, who stopped the earthquake in 1650 before it destroyed the city.

After getting back to Cusco, I had dinner with some new friends from the tour. We enjoyed some causas, which are seasoned mashed potato terrines, stuffed with different meats (we had river trout, beef tenderloin, and shrimp.)

Cusco was great, but I couldn't wait to get started on my Inca Trail trek!


  1. Sounds like an amazing trip! I really appreciate your posting the photos and sharing your experience. I was wondering. Would you have done that same trip by yourself?

  2. I did do (a lot of) it by myself! It was amazing, and so easy to meet other travelers. The trek was with a group, however--I would definitely not recommend going on that kind of trip alone, but just going to cities is great. Although I love traveling with friends, the advantage of traveling by yourself is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want!