Peru is an amazing country! You must go! Cusco is a lively city to explore, rich in culture, with something for everyone! The people are very friendly, and will not hesitate to answer the questions of tourists if you stop them on the street. My girlfriend and I planned a trip in the rainy season to hike to Machu Picchu and trek through the Peruvian Amazon back-to-back. We only spent a couple of days exploring Cusco, but from what we saw….it was incredible! I’m still pretty pumped about our experience in Peru so I’m going to share some of the knowledge I gained from my experience along with some background research I did about the Inca and the Amazon before heading to Peru. Then of course…I will break down my entire planning process for you guys so you can plan a similar trip or continue my research to organize an experience that’s even better!
Check it out….
The city of Cusco has some pretty incredible history behind it. It was the religious and administrative center of the Inca empire and had a population of around 150,000 at its peak. It is important to note that the Inca empire was divided into two social classes: the Inca (royal upper class) and the Quechua (Inca working class). The Inca language of Quechua is perhaps one of the most interesting things to experience, as it is still spoken by the native people today! Do not fear, if you don’t speak Quechua….you can communicate easily in Spanish, as most people are bilingual speaking both languages. English, although not as popular as Spanish, was also commonly spoken.
The city of Cusco was originally built in the shape of a puma and was famous for its architecture and palaces. The complex which may have been the most impressive to see during the time of the Inca is Coricancha. It was by far the grandest of Cusco’s architecture, containing individual temples dedicated to the sun god Inti, the moon goddess: Mama Kilya, the creator god: Venus, the god of thunder: Illapa, and the rainbow god: Cuichu. Coricancha was also known as the “Golden Enclosure”, with all of its walls covered in sheets of gold. It was the most sacred of all Inca sites and was considered to be the very center of world, revealing one of the many reasons as to why Cusco was so significant for the Inca. Unfortunately, the golden majesty of the building is no longer, as it was stripped of its riches during the raid of the Conquistadors. However, as stone was not of significance to the Spanish, the complex of Coricancha still stands as an impressive architectural landmark in the city today.
For more extensive reading on Cusco:
The site itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been proclaimed one of the new seven wonders of the world – it is something you will never forget once you see it. The Quechuan name of “Machu Picchu” translates to “Old Peak/Mountain”. Archaeologists believe the site to have been a summer home for the Inca (Royal upper class). It is also known to have been a gathering place for the Inca to celebrate seasonal solstices, as various temples are present on the site as well. The 4 day hike up to Machu Picchu is constructed primarily of stone and took the Inca (Quechua) people approximately 100 years to build it! The stones you walk on are the same stones that were put there by the Inca themsleves…all the way up! When you finally reach Machu Picchu, you will appreciate the site so much more than you would have if you’d taken a bus or train to the top.
Machu Picchu is unique in that it was never found by the Spanish during their invasion. It displays purely Inca characteristics without any sign of colonial influence. There is a legend attached to the site regarding the Inca civilization…during the Spanish invasion, those that were living at the site decided to abandon the settlement and flee into the Andes away from the Conquistadors. They took with them all they could carry and vowed to one day return and restore the great name of the Inca. Many people have chased this legend into the Andes and have systematically attempted to identify the path that the Inca may have taken into the Andes. However, the track markers laid by explorers, archaeologists, and treasure hunters overtime have all been reported as tampered with when attempting to retrace their steps to find the missing Inca. Their location/existence is still a mystery to be solved today.
Something else worth noting is that the 4 day Inca Trail hike is quite physically challenging. Now having completed the hike, I find it strange that the level of physical fitness required for this hike is not stressed more. The trail itself is smooth and well built…it is the inclines and declines for 6-10 hours a day, in combination with the rain that make it difficult. Keep that in mind as you contemplate doing the hike. On the plus side, Quechuan porters carry all the camping equipment (minus sleeping bags and mats) and the chef cook incredibly delicious meals! The juice is worth the squeeze!
For additional reading on Machu Picchu:
This is perhaps one of the most fascinating, mysterious and peaceful places I have ever been. The Peruvian Amazon is separated into 3 zones: The cultural zone (secondary forest), the reserved zone (primary forest), and the intangible zone (deep jungle). Wildlife is abundant in all 3 zones, but the type of wildlife you see changes as you trek deeper into the jungle. Also, the amazon is generally pretty humid and increases in humidity as you venture deeper into it. The jungle contains everything from indigenous tribes to giant exotic reptiles! It contains 222 species of mammals, 99 species of reptiles, 140 species of amphibians, 1000 species of birds, 210 species of fish, and around 2500 different species of various insects. No tourists are allowed to enter the park without a guide. After experiencing a 4 day tour of the jungle, I understand this regulation completely. It is ridiculously easy to die there if you do not have extensive knowledge of the habitat! For this reason, most guides have either lived/grown up in the amazon, or have spent a large portion of their life there. There is never a dull moment.
It is also quite fascinating to experience culture in the Amazon! Experiencing a drastically different culture to your own will illuminate the the unity that exists within humanity, as we all function with completely different worldviews, yet we coexist, working together to progress our existence on the earth.
For additional reading on additional reading:
The vaccinations that a foreign country may advocate for and/or distribute commonly are important to be aware of. Try to check on these at least 2 months prior to leaving for your trip, as some of the vaccinations need to be administered in stages over an extended period of time. There are a number of recommended vaccinations to have for Peru. The most important one to have is the yellow fever vaccination. See the following link to look at all the recommended vaccinations for entering Peru. Upon obtaining each vaccination, a “vaccination card” should be administered containing the vaccination received and the signature of the doctor/nurse who administered it. Some countries will not let you enter if they have seen you have previously been to a country which requires vaccinations and you do not have proof that you have them!
It is best to look for a hostel/hotel near the main square in Cusco called Plaza de armas. Beware that the night life is pretty active so if noise bothers you, try to aim for something right outside of the main square. We stayed at Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta. It was about a 15 minute walk from the main square (a little far) but it was a great hostel and very well priced. Many of hostels in or near the main square can be a little pricey, a lot of the better deals are a little farther out from the main square like the hostel we stayed at. Our hostel was very clean, offered a laundry service, and had high ratings on the hostel world website.
My girlfriend and I booked two tours for our time in Peru. The first was for a 4 day hike to Macchu Picchu and the second was for a 4 day trek in the Amazon jungle. The prices for these tours seemed to be priced anywhere from $350-$450 US per person. DO NOT PAY ANYMORE THAN THAT! (Unless you are trying to go fancy of course). After talking with others on the tours with us I discovered that we got a pretty good deal on our Inca trail hike. It was around $380 US per person. However, there were some that still got it for less! Keep your eyes peeled when shopping around. It is a good idea to reserve this one in advance, as it is very popular and may fill up.
Additionally, we paid about the same amount for our 4 day trek through the Jungle. However, after talking with the others on the trek I discovered that we paid about $50-100 dollars more than all of them. Oddly enough, we paid more because we booked so far in advance. I don’t usually advocate for booking tours late, but it seemed as if those who got a better deal booked their tours while they were in Cusco, and only 1 or 2 days before the tour. The tour companies seem to lower their prices when they need to urgently fill a spot/s for upcoming tours. Keep that in mind.
The company we used for booking our tours is called inca world travel. I booked through email about 2 months in advance. They were very quick to respond to every email I sent and were very helpful when I asked them questions about what I would need for each tour. Unfortunately, it was not this way when I arrived. To make a long story short, they were not as organized as they made themselves sound. Try to do some looking around before booking with these guys. If you can’t find anything with a decent deal, these guys can certainly hook you up with a decent deal. Also, if you end up booking with the company I did, try to negotiate the price whether booking through email or in person…I think they might barter with you. Had I known this before, I would have done the same! Good luck!
Note: Inca Wold Travel is a company that organizes tours with other other tour agencies. It is not a tour agency itself. Thankfully, the tour agencies that were hired for our tours were amazing! I would not change a thing about them. The agency for the Inca Trail tour was called Cusco Explorers.
Note: During the wet season your clothes will get a little wet regardless of how well protected you are. It is a good idea to carry 2 trousers/shirts/longsleeves so that you can always have a dry one at the start of the day. It is a little more weight on your back but worth it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Ponchos are HIGHLY recommended for the wet season. It will rain…and it might not stop on some days. If you are doing a long hike that requires you to carry a backpack/sleeping/mat, I recommend an extra large poncho that you can wear over your backpack! Make sure that your poncho will still cover a good portion of you after it is over your backpack! If you are doing a trek that does not require you to carry a backpack while hiking, I recommend a sleeved poncho. These keep you much more dry than the standard poncho without sleeves.
If you have any questions about the hike or trek feel free to ask.
That’s all for now. Speak soon guys.