32 • Vacations
Fall 2018 • 33
OVERLOOKING MACHU PICCHU
Ex raordinary Experiences
Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, is a small, bustling
city – only half a million people live in what was once the
capital city of the Inca Empire; but these days, some two
million visitors come from around the world every year en
route to Machu Picchu. From Cusco, travellers make their
way to the start of the famed four-day Inca Trail hike or go
all the way to Machu Picchu by train and bus. But Cusco isn’t
just a stopover – it’s worth spending a few days to explore.
While Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the
pinnacle to most Peruvian adventures,
getting there is just as much fun.
By Karen Leiva
CUSCO’S CITY CENTRE
Cusco, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, tells the
story of the historic Spanish conquest over the Incas – and
efforts to create a modern city that preserves Inca traditions.
The Plaza de Armas, constructed by the Incan Empire, was
taken over by Spanish colonial buildings in the 1500s and what
remains is a combination of those two architectural styles.
Nearby trendy restaurants, like Uchu, where alpaca and beef
steaks are served sizzling on volcanic hot plates, are tucked
into narrow cobblestone alleys once carved out by the Incas.
Inside the Catholic cathedral, you’ll find hints of Incan homage
to nature. It’s worth visiting the Plaza de Armas at night, if only
to sit on the steps and take in the city’s nightlife.
BEYOND THE CITY
Just a 15-minute drive outside of the city, take a guided tour
through the Saqsaywaman ruins. With temples dedicated
to earth and nature, it is believed that Saqsaywaman was
one of the Inca’s most important religious sites where rituals
were performed in honour of the Sun God and Mother Earth.
If you are fortunate to visit in June, don’t miss the Festival
of the Sun which sees a procession in traditional Incan dress
descend on the ruins for an elaborate ceremony. Beyond the
ruins, there are picture-perfect views of Cusco’s red tile-roof
homes and llamas grazing in fields. Also, check out the nearby
planetarium at night for a look at the stars and to learn how
the Inca used the constellations to guide their agricultural
SACRED VALLEY SITES
The journey to Machu Picchu takes you through the
picturesque Sacred Valley. The road winds through the
majestic Andes, where industrious farmers have carved out
agriculture terraces on mountain slopes. A likely stop is a
look-out point to see the Urubamba River from high in the
mountains. Further on is Chinchero, where travellers can learn
more about the ancient art of weaving. The Ccaccaccollo
Women’s Weaving Collective, supported by G Adventures, is
another weaving co-op where women from nearby villages
give demonstrations and sell their handicrafts.
The last stop before arriving to Machu Picchu is Aguas
Calientes, a town that was constructed along the banks of
the Urubamba River to support massive numbers of tourists
heading to and fromMachu Picchu. Make-shift spas are popular
here, offering trekkers a chance to recover from (or get ready
for) their hike. Try the ‘Inca Massage’ at the Vida Spa, but when
the masseuse asks you how strong you want the pressure,
remember the women doing the massages are the descendants
of a powerful people.