Category Archives: Cusco

Machu Picchu Anniversary

On July 24th 2011, Peru is celebrating the day, 100 years earlier, when Hiram Bingham quite accidentally discovered Machu Picchu.  He wasn’t the first person to find it, but he was the first to recognize its significance.  Thus began the dramatic rise of Machu Picchu as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the most visited tourist site in South America and the emblematic symbol of Peru and the Incas.

Machu Picchu in 1912

Machu Picchu in 1912

Build up to the Discovery

In July 1911, Hiram Bingham and his Yale University expedition team were roaming the mountains of Peru looking for Vilcabamba, the fabled last city of the Incas.  Records left by Spanish chroniclers led Bingham to believe that he could found the city in the continuation of the Urubamba River.  His team had been promised amazing Inca sites in the past, only to be let down when locals led them to some simple huts.  It is no surprise, then, that when local innkeeper, Mechor Areaga told Bingham of a city on top of a steep and slippery cliff, the explorer was a little skeptical.

Rout Along The Urubamba River

Rout Along The Urubamba River

An Accidental Find

As Bingham relates in his book, Lost City of The Incas, the team met Arteaga at what is now the outskirts of Aguas Calientes.  At the time he was the owner of the local ‘inn’, a grass roofed affair, and was quite put out that the explorers preferred to sleep in their tents.  When Arteaga heard the group were looking for Inca ruins, he offered to show them a city hidden on the cliffs nearby.  The next morning dawned drizzly and there was little enthusiasm for the trip.  Bingham’s companions chose to do their washing and look for butterflies rather than go climbing up an overgrown and difficult mountain.  Bingham,  Arteaga and the local Sergeant escort arrived at the top of the difficult climb to find a series of terraces being farmed by two men named Richarte and Alvarez.  These local farmers had unknowingly made the sacred Inca site their home; saying they enjoyed being hidden away from visitors.  Ironically enough, their once hidden home is now the most visited place in South America.

Bingham continued on to Machu Picchu proper and saw that the stonework was of incredibly good quality.  He claimed that he immediately recognized that the site was built for ceremonial purposes, though it is more likely that he only discovered this later. In short, you get the impression that Bingham was initially not impressed by Machu Picchu. After all, this was not the last city of the Incas that he had been looking for.

Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham

Bingham was a man looking for a big find; something to make his fame and fortune. In 1911 he thought he might find glory with the discovery of some bones found in an ice hole.  Gradually he realized that the collection of terraces and white granite walls that make up Machu Picchu, were to be his legacy.

In 1912 Bingham returned to Peru with a team from Yale University to excavate Machu Picchu and the rest, is history.

Explore Peru

Nowadays, with the popularity of Machu Picchu as a tourist destination, it is difficult to recreate that sense of discovery experienced by Bingham.  On the other side of the mountains, though, Choquequirau sees just a handful of visitors and parts of the ruins are still emerging from the dense vegetation.  Kuelap, in the north of Peru, sits quietly and dramatically on top of a mountain as it has for 500 years.  Other nearby forts of the Chachapoyan people are completely covered by dense forest.  Bingham did finally get to the last Inca city at Espiritu Pampa and even now, the 8 day trek there is an Indiana Jones style adventure into the unknown.

Photos from National Geographic

Hidden Forts Near Chachapoyas

Hidden Forts Near Chachapoyas


Richard Gere on Family Holiday to Machu Picchu

Richard Gere Machu Picchu

Richard Gere in Machu Picchu

Richard Gere was spotted today exploring the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru. He said he was on a family holiday and was accompanied by his wife; actress Carey Lowell.

He will go on to take in the beautiful Sacred Valley and stay in Cusco until Thursday. We hope Richard Gere and family have an excellent holiday!

Inca Trail: Whats the Big Deal?

This iconic trek to Machu Picchu is often misunderstood and confused with other alternative treks around Cusco.  Here we outline the basics on the Inca Trail and why it’s so special.

What is the Inca Trail?

The fact is there isn’t just one Inca Trail.  The Incas built a massive system of trails all across their empire for transporting goods, soldiers and sending messages.  Quapaq Ňan,  or Great Inca Road,  was the principal highway and it ran for a staggering  6,000km from Colombia, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and down into Chile.  It is possible to follow the whole trail though only 25% is still visible.  Just ask Laurent Granier and Megan Soon who walked the whole Inca Road in a mere 18months!

Inca Road through Sangay NP, Ecuador

Kyle on the Inca Trail in Ecuador

What’s the Classic Inca Trail?

The best preserved part of the massive network of Inca Trails is the 43 km section running from the Sacred Valley to the Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru.  The normal time for walking along the Inca Trail section is the much more manageable 4 days, though the 5 day Inca Trail is highly recommended.

Why do the Inca Trail?

Hiking the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail

This fabulous trail through the Andes is an iconic trek.  The Inca Trail is consistently voted as one of the top 5 treks in the world alongside the likes of treks in Nepal and the Alps.  The Inca Trail offers an unbeatable combination of varied scenery, history and local Peru culture; not forgetting the spectacular finish as you descend to the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu.  The route is littered with birds, orchids, Inca ruins and spectacular views with a great variety of scenery each day.  A really great all round trek.

What is it like on the Inca Trail?

You walk through a variety of landscapes including traditional farming communities, cloud forest and high Andean paramo with beautiful views of snow capped mountain ranges; so each day gives you completely different scenery and experience.
The trail is sometimes on Inca-built stone pathways or even a few steep stone steps, at other times it is a regular, clear trail.
There are opportunities for seeing grazing llamas, humming birds and plenty of orchids and, if you are lucky, the elusive spectacled bear.
On each day there are impressive Inca ruins to explore (time permitting)
For the regular 4 day Inca Trail, the toughest day is the second taking you over the highest pass (appropriately named Dead Woman’s Pass) at over 4, 000 m.

Look into the 5 Day Inca Trail for a more relaxed pace and more opportunities for exploring on the way.

Orchids over Machu Picchu

Orchids Over Machu Picchu

It is a challenging trek but with full support from experienced guides and porters, anyone who is reasonably fit can achieve.

Is the Inca Trail overcrowded?

The Inca trail became a victim of its own success in the ´90s and suffered environmental damage.  To address this, the government imposed many  regulations including a limit on the number of people that can be on the trail at any one time.  Anybody wishing to do the Inca trail must do so as part of an organized group and must have a permit to enter the trail.  As the numbers of permits are strictly limited,  places fill up fast so you need to book your spot in advance.  To get away from the crowds you could take the 5 Day Inca Trail.

What is an Alternative Inca Trail?

Peru has some of the best trekking on the world.  There are plenty of alternative treks you can do BUT there is only ONE Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and this is the only trek that will take you directly to Machu Picchu.  Other alternatives such as Lares, Salkantay, the Weavers Way and the Inca Jungle Trail are all good treks – but they  end up at the train station, not at Machu Picchu.

Exhibition of Cusco in Cuenca

Photography of Cusco

Cusco: Timeless City, an exhibition of historic and modern photos of the Peruvian city and Inca capital, will be presented through the month of February at the Pumapungo Museum by the Ministry of Culture. The exhibition includes Martin Chambi´s snapshot collelction as well as photos by  Horacio Ortega, Filberto Cabrera, Crisanto Cabrera, José González and Pablo Veramendi.  Martin Chambi was a prolific Cusco native whose photos magically capture the life of local people.


Martin Chambi Cusco, Peru

Cusco people

Pumapungo Museum at Banco Central, Calle Larga at Huayna Capac
Admission: free


New Cuban art gallery

Cuba native Noydán Conde announces the opening of Conde Galeria de Arte in Todo Santos, featuring work of Cuban and Cueancano artists. The gallery is at 4 – 32 Calle Larga at Alfoso Jerves. Current work features Havana portraits and street scenes as well as images of Cuenca. In addition to works by Conde, the gallery displays work by fellow Cuban and Cuenca resident Lanner Diaz. Most of the works exhibited are for sale. Gallery hours are weekdays, 08h00 to 12h00 and 14h00 to 17h00.

Machu Picchu for Girls: What is there for women travellers in Cusco and around?

Lou in a questionable alpaca hat

Lou from Into LA in a questionable alpaca hat


Alpaca sweaters
The fashion police would not approve of the plethora of sweaters with tassles and pictures of llamas, but it is possible to get a beautiful real alpaca sweater that doesn’t make you look like a cartoon tourist.  Baby alpaca is just about the softest most wonderful wool and if you pay a bit more, you can get the genuine article in a range of modern, stylish designs.

Of all types and styles.  There are mass produced colorful textiles, antique weavings using natural dyes and some fabulous, complex modern takes. Good places to find out about the various pieces of clothing, the significance of the patterns and the skills involved, is the Inca Museum or the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco.

Silverware is the specialty of Cusco and Peru in general. Cusco is a great place to find some fine, hand crafted unique pieces.  Ilaria has some exquisite original pieces often inspired by Inca designs.  For more contemporary, chunky designs Jewely Esma in San Blas is a good choice.  Chimu has funky pieces inspired by Chimu cluture and Spondilus uses gemstones in a stylish, sophisticated way.

Other Clothes
The cool San Blas district has a growing selection of shops selling individually made creations.  There are some cool funky Inca inspired T shirts or shops like Hilo whose hip, alternative creations are tailor made to fit perfectly.

Body and Soul

When you hear of the Cusco School of Art, this isn’t the myriad paintings of Andean children and Cusco scenes on sale around the main square.  It refers to the local Andean take on the Spanish style of the 16th Century.  It’s characterized by religious icons, gold and oddities like guinea pig at the last supper.  There are plenty of examples on view but if you prefer your art more modern, local artist Elena Mendoza Altamirano’s labour of love is the Fractal Dragon Gallery.  Housed in a beautifully restored colonial mansion, the gallery displays the best of local up and coming Cusco artists.

Don’t get put off by the touts offering massages.  This isn’t the whole story as there are plenty of affordable and professional spa opportunities in Cusco and around.  A local characteristic is the combination of spa treatments with Andean rituals of purification and the use of local herbs in therapies.    The uninspiring location of Yin Yang in the shopping center on Av Sol is deceiving:  they are massage pros and are happy to come to the hotel. Inka Spa gets great reviews for its massages and ritual treatments starting at $25.  If all you really want is a bath, then head to Siluet for no-nonsense Jacuzzi and sauna.

The Sacred Valley has an increasingly wide range of places for retreats, shamanic rituals and yoga.  San Blas also has some excellent yoga centers with internationally qualified teachers. “Yoga Inbound” in the Casa de Cultura on Carmen Alto do excellent Ashtanga Vinyasa classes as well as teacher training.  Yoga Spirit Peru offers daily classes as well as biweekly free classes near the ruins of Sacsayuaman.  Do yoga outdoors high above the city and next to a huge Inca fortress.

Steph from Into LA in The Tea Rooms

Steph from Into LA in The Tea Rooms

Stuff to Drink
Because of its position as one of the premier tourist destinations in South America there is a huge range of local and international places to eat and drink.   For a taste of sophistication, Baco is THE place for a quiet glass of wine, Jack’s Café is famous, always busy and the coffee lovers favorite, for a boisterous, beery night, Paddy’s is the old Irish standard. If you prefer tea and cake, check out the cool couches at The Tea Rooms.

Lovers of all things food you can do no worse than head to the main market in San Pedro.  There you’ll find all the herbs, spices, fruit and other produce that make up the hugely varied range of Peruvian cuisine. Did you know that there are over 2, 000 kinds of potato or that the tomato came from Peru?

It used to be that taking a salsa class in Cusco was an excuse for young men to chat up cute foreign girls. No longer the case, genuine and legitimate salsa schools are popping up all over the place. The non- profit Fair Salsa has a troupe of salsa professionals whose one to one instruction will help you swing those hips on the dance floor