Inca Cities: Machu Picchu and Cusco

This is the third of three posts describing a trip for which I was the US representative from Zephyr Adventures, which runs their Royal Inca Trail Trekking adventure with local experts from Apumayo.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

(See related password free photo albums on Picasa.)

The overnight downpour had me worried, but fortunately, we awoke to high clouds for our Machu Picchu visit. We beat the crowd by leaving on the 6am bus, and as we paused to explore all the important places in the ruins, Santiago did a wonderful job of educating us about its significance, both historically and astrologically.
Santiago knew that the 400 reservations to climb Wayna Picchu were sold out, but Pam was eager to go with me, so he approached the entrance gate and said we’d  lost our tickets. The guy believed him, of course (two middle aged blond women!). To our gratification, the stone path was not slippery and there was no crowd.

Liz and Pam on top of Wayna Picchu
Sitting atop Wayna Picchu was Pam’s favorite moment

We made our way up the steep and narrow trail in an hour, climbed through the two rock tunnels, and got to the huge boulders at the very top. A couple with a small baby shared the moment, taking photos with the ruins in the background. Then the mom started nursing! We decided to descend on the same route we came up to avoid the steps with a steep drop-off next to the stone buildings, which I remember quite well from 2008. On our way down, I snapped a photo of a guy who was hiking barefoot and not carrying shoes!

After a delicious buffet lunch back in town, our group boarded the Vistadome car on PeruRail for a ride back to Ollantaytambo. We were treated to snacks and an alpaca wool fashion show. Since I’d seen this in 2008, I worked on my journal most of the ride. I swear the female model poked me in the shoulder as she passed to punish me for ignoring her!


Waiting with the van to pick us up at the Ollantaytambo station, our solicitous and competent driver Antonio had us back in Cuzco by 5:30. The Picoaga hotel is fantastic, a converted colonial building. Tonight’s dinner on the Plaza de Armas was delicious! As a wrap-up, I presented our group’s tips to Santiago and  Zephyr Adventures awards to our newbies: El Condor for Randy (a pilot, and due to arthritic hips, better at flying), Poderosa for mighty Marie (that’s what she named her sapling in Cachiccata), and Queen of the Apu for Heather who summitted her fear of heights.

We were moving slowly this day, and some of us felt a little ill on the final morning, which Santiago says is typical. After a half night’s sleep and gastric distress, I could barely manage a balance bar for breakfast. Pam and Heather both have sore throats.  Looking dapper in a necktie, Antonio loaded big suitcases into the van and by 9:15 we were on our way to the local market frequented by Santiago and his family. What a variety of smells and scenes! From butcher counters to eateries to stalls crammed with grains, jewelry or spuds, to farm ladies seated on the concrete surrounded by their vegetables.

Saqsaywaman ruins above Cusco
Saqsaywaman ruins above Cusco

Santiago had Antonio drive us up to the  Inca temples and fortress overlooking Cusco. At the water temple we saw the beginning of the northern Inca trail leading to Machu Picchu which ultimately leads to our trail. We moved on to a rocky temple with two sacrificial alters carved into into a cave. Then Randy, Olive and I crawled through a rock tunnel to reach a large terraced amphitheater and on to Saksaywamen, with its zigzag walls of the most massive boulders.

Before descending back to the city, we stopped at the baby alpaca store and I was able to pick up super soft sweaters for Dan and me.  We stopped for lunch at Fallen Angel, where a gay decorator obviously satisfied every wild whim he’d ever had. Our lunches were served on an old bathtub fish tank covered with glass.  Santiago enjoyed sharing Cusco’s modern side with us, after so much history.

Before we knew it, we were giving good-bye hugs at the airport, sending our trekkers home with their memories, photos and souvenirs. This moment of separation with newfound friends is always sad.

Santiago and I took a taxi to the Apumayo office, where  I met Kati and owner Pepe. They mapped out the logistics for our 3-day sample trek of the Inca trails closer to Cusco.   The rest of my day was spent napping, organizing my duffle and luggage, and emailing Zephyr a detailed trip report.

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4 Responses to “Inca Cities: Machu Picchu and Cusco”

  1. Dan says:

    Nice job. I’m jealous that I couldn’t join you in this wondrous place this time.


  2. Liz Miller says:

    It would have been wondrous to have you share it with me!

  3. Keith says:

    I found this blog looking for inline skating info but, being a big fan of Peru, I’m really enjoying reading about your Peruvian adventures!

  4. Liz Miller says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed them!