Based on our research before the trip- Cusco is majorly underrated. Possibly it was the altitude induced delirium that hit within 100m of stepping off the plane but we found Cuzco stunning and as the old capital of the Inca empire I think it deserves all the kudos it gets, it’s much more than just the gateway to Machu Picchu. If we had our time over we would definitely spend more time here.
With the amazing landscape you pass on the train to Machu Picchu its a shame the early morning start, altitude, gentle rocking and soothing panpipe tunes conspire to put you to sleep. The landscape reminded me a little of central Otago (but a lot steeper and the ruins are just a touch older than miners cottages) which fits the gold mining in both areas and is funny because when I was younger the combination of reading Tintin and a trip through central on the way to nana’s meant we passed this- putting two and two together I came to the logical conclusion that Incas lived in New Zealand. Not far off…
Machu Picchu itself is really breathtaking, or in the words of Simon ‘it doesn’t disappoint’. Set in an incredible location the site doesn’t need goddess and alien stories to sell it- it’s incredible even if it was just a holiday destination or small town. Following all the recommendations we were there for sunrise, while the site looks better when the sun is up, arriving at sunrise means you enter the park with only hundreds, rather than thousands of other people. Archeologists think that around 700 in as lived in Machu Picchu in its hey day, now 4000 people pass through every day. With concerns over its stability and the damage this traffic is doing the guides a very strict on sticking to the paths and no jumping photos. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years you can only see the site from a viewing platform. Feeling a little guilty at not doing the Inca trail (it sells out 8 months in advance! Plus I was still growing my toenails back from the Routeburn at Christmas- lovely) we signed up for the extra trek up Huyana Picchu which is the peak you see towering over the site- an incredibly vertical climb, and concerningly vertical descent. It was only at the end that they informed us someone had fallen over the side last year and their body had never been found.
By the time we reached Lima we were tired and a bit filthy, unfortunately so was the air bnb apartment we had booked so we couldn’t check in for a few hours. Having had enough adventure we killed time by playing on the pokies and going to the movies- winning. The next day, after a restful night in single beds (a common occurrence when traveling with different last names and different countries of origin) we pulled ourselves together enough to go on a food tour- and I’m so glad we did! Lima is in the midst of a bit of a culinary revolution and I was lucky enough to find a market tour that incorporated craft beer. The tour was run by a fantastic host Connie who had established the business just a few months previously after arriving in Lima during her travels. It took us through the markets where we had the best ceviche of our lives, tried exotic fruits, delicious quail eggs, saw hundreds of potato varieties, made our own Amazonian mash ups and tried some pretty potent cure-all potion (I think it cured all ails by making you forget all ails). All in all it was a real highlight of the trip.