Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Arriving in Cusco really takes your breathe away, literally. 11,000ft is higher than we had been before, so it was good to go straight down to the Sacred Valley to give us a chance to acclimatize to the altitude. Our resort was a tropical haven; beautifully tended gardens with tropical flowers as well as some lively and colourful birds, a great place to relax and take in the breathtaking mountain scenery. The ruins of Ollantaytambo were our first chance to see the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Inca stonemasons for ourselves. Terraces rising to impossible heights on slopes which seemed to steep for any human to climb, stones slotted together like an intricate jigsaw puzzle created structures and buildings which can clearly last forever. Most of the buildings in the town seem to incorporate walls from the original Inca settlement.
However all this was just a warm up for our ultimate destination - Machu Picchu. No matter how much you read before hand, (and Hiram Bingham's book is an easy read to get you into the mood), the first sight of Machu Picchu is spectacular. Having negotiated the winding road up the mountain, you are more than ready for something truly special and you will not be disappointed. The pictures you see tell only half the story. The view all around you adds to the magnificence of the place. How it was built at such an apparently inaccessible point on the mountain and how it was 'lost' for 400 years are mysteries that you will puzzle over throughout the visit.
We had such an enjoyable visit the first day, that we forsook the comforts of our lovely hotel to go up the mountain a second time, the impact of the drive and the sight of the buildings were not diminished. Reluctantly we had to leave Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of the mountain where we were staying, but at least we travelled by the vistadrome train, which complete with fashion show, gave us a chance to collect our thoughts and catch our breath before two days in Cusco. This colonial town has so much bustle and colour there is really something for everyone. The churches in particular give a very good snapshot of how the indigenous culture was melded into colonial Catholicism. Sipping a long drink on a colonial balcony overlooking the main square is a great way to watch the world go by, and a good place to rethink that decision to buy a pair of colourful trousers so beloved by backpackers!
Read more about Rosemary's trip to Argentina, Bora Bora, Chile and the Galapagos.