seeing south america: nasca + cusco + macchu picchu

The adventure continues as I move from Lima to Nasca. The journey leaves the city and goes to the desert, where sun-baked houses occupy the large expanse and sunsets are beautiful.

Nasca

Nasca is one of the smaller Peruvian towns, normally part of a larger trail going through Paracas and Ica, which I, unfortunately, didn’t have the time to explore this trip. The main highlight of Nasca, however, was the Nasca Lines, left by the extinguished Nasca settlements. You need to book a group flight to really see the lines in their true glory, and if you book early, you can get flights for as low as 70 USD. The average, otherwise, is 80 USD.  I flew with AeroParacas, which is decently reliable flight operator.

paracas

Once you’re up in the air, the whole flight takes around 30-40 minutes, with many dips and curls so don’t eat anything before your flight. The pilots do these so that you can get a closer view of the lines which are magnificent. You really need an eye for perspective to appreciate the intention and scale of the Nasca Lines, some of which are accurate to a high degree on their depiction of various animals and people. The Spider was my favourite, and one of the most visible drawings. It’s rumoured that these lines were drawn in worship to the Gods, or because of aliens, but because not much is known about the Nasca settlements, we will also not know much about the lines and their intentions for the foreseeable future.

spider

Getting to and from Nasca is easiest by bus (Cruz del Sur is my recommendation for quality service) and doesn’t really have much other for the tourist beyond the lines. There are some really cool aqueducts/wells and beautifully stunning landscapes so I would recommend one additional day to explore those. I must give one of my highest recommendations to NaNasqa Hostel, run by Roy (below). It’s by far one of the best representations of what a homely hostel should be, with Roy and his Mom making the personal effort to take care of you and make sure you’re well prepared for your trips. I had the pleasure of building the friendships I did with both Roy and Dino, another friend of the hostel. If you go to Nasca, definitely stay here.

nanasqa

On we must now continue on the rest of the trip.  I took the bus from Nasca to Cusco which was supposed to last approximately 12 hours. Unfortunately, I learned a very important lesson about South America on this journey, which was that you should never expect for plans to go they way you intend for them to. Protests are frequent and rampant, and tourists are often hostage to the situation at hand. We were stuck in the mountains on the way up to Cusco for 12 hours, and I learnt a bit about the state of affairs in mountain towns. It’s sobering to learn that much of Peru is left to fend for themselves, especially in the rural areas, and that as a result, many are left without basic resources such as clean water and access to supplies. This was an added lens to see this country through. Also, I used the 12 hours to acclimatise to the altitude, which helped when I reached Cusco.

protest

Cusco

Cusco is nearly 3600m about sea level, causing many to think of altitude sickness and Coca Leaves. Cusco was by far one of my favourite cities on this trip. It’s a big city, but much of its history remaining and breathing, with cobblestone streets and indigenous Incan descendants in traditional garb in plain sight. Cusco is a convenient entry point to understanding Incan civilisations and what Peru is mostly renowned for.

garb

Cusco as a town has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. While there are many trips (beautiful but normally costly) you can base out of Cusco, I’d recommend starting with a walking tour of the city to understand the seat of Incan civilisation, as well as the Spanish occupation of the Incan empire.  For example, below you can see Qorikancha, which was the Incan Sun Temple and by extension, one of the most important buildings in the Incan Empire. It’s unfortunate then that when the Spanish occupied, they converted the temple to a church, destroying many of the cultural and historical aspects of the building. There are still remainders of the temple, and within the church as well, many beautiful Christian paintings and treasures.

qoricancha

Walking into the Plaza de Armas, you’ll see the many important buildings of Cusco. Below is the main cathedral of the city, which was again built over important Incan temples. It became a morbidly fun challenge to wonder what every Spanish/Christian building was built over and discover the rich heritage of both Incan culture and the Spanish occupation.

cuscocathedral

Once you’re in Cusco, you can begin trying some of the more exquisite foods available. I tried Cuy (guinea pig), which has mixed reactions upon my utterance. I personally found it tasty, but too much of a hassle to eat and so won’t try it again. A good locals-only place to try cuy without breaking your wallet is La Chomba. Another meat I tried was Alpaca. I had it as a steak to really get familiar with the meat, but you can eat it in burgers or other meat dishes in Cusco. It’s tasty for sure, and lies somewhere between mutton and beef on the taste spectrum. Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse is where I went for mine, and the different sauces they offer help bring out different dimensions to the meat.

alpaca

Finally, once you build up the capability, eat Peruvian street food. Anticuchos were one of my favorite. They’re basically skewered beef hearts that are amazingly tasty and chewy.

anticuchos

Macchu Picchu

One of the must-do trips to take from Cusco is the one to Macchu Picchu, one of the only remaining ruins of the Incan civilisations that are also stunning beautiful. There are multiple ways to get there, and there are other blogs for this, but in essence, you can choose to hike there or take the train. I’d honestly have chosen to hike had I known you have to book 6 months in advance and pay nearly 600 USD for the whole package, but alas, I was not as prepared and had to book the fast trip. Booking a package is convenient and covers most of your logistics, all for an average of 200USD. A bus first takes you to Ollantaytamboo, itself a town with historical ruins, from which you take Perurail through the mountains to the base of Macchu Picchu.

train

The train carries both tourists and locals, and so as a way of prioritising locals (after many protests that complained about favouritism of services to tourists), tourists only get 2 cabins that are basically the equivalent of first-class cabins. This explains why tickets run out fast. The good thing is that the cabins do provide beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and landscapes so photo opportunities are available. The train reaches Aguas Calientes, which is a small town with no roads and multitudes of hotels and restaurants primarily catered for tourists. Trust me when I say that the town has nothing else going on besides Macchu Picchu. Prices also match the tourist phenomenon so don’t try to stay too long here.trainview

Buses go up to Macchu Picchu for 12USD a ride, or you can take a roughly 1.5 – 2 hour climb up the Incan steps to the entry gate. Either way, the highlight of the trip is walking past the entry point, up the small knoll and into the steppes that are iconic to what is Macchu Picchu. I had the luck to see the clouds leave the town and provide an astonishing view of this city. Taking the tour provided a thorough and comprehensive understanding of not only the city but the Incan civilisation as a whole, including how the people lived and how they worshipped. The mountains provide a backdrop that is not easily replicable and you truly feel like you’re living in the heavens. The photos I took reflect the beauty of the Macchu Picchu only to the minutest extents. One must stand amongst these ruins to truly appreciate them.

mp2

Lllamas also roam these ruins freely, grazing and cheesing around. They’ll occasionally pose for a photo but like to be left alone most times.llama

From the main ruins, there are also multiple other trails you can follow, including climbing up the taller mountains on the sides to get a better view. I took a hike to see the Incan Bridge (below), which saw me walk along the sides of cliffs and overlook vertical drops. The bridge in itself is simple, but perplexing, and altogether dangerous.incabridge

Quickly, a good recommendation for hostels in Cusco is Pariwana Hostel, which is a large party-esque hostel with a lot of activities both internally and in Cusco. I’d recommend staying away from their internal travel agency and doing a bit of legwork around the city to book tours, but for everything else, Pariwana has got you covered for an affordable rate.

I left this part of Peru absolutely fed with adventure, beauty and emotion. There was so much richness that I hadn’t been exposed to before, especially with such frequency, and I was realizing my world was a lot bigger than I had thought it was. How much history does our world hold and how ignorant are we to think that we cannot take lessons away from our past?

I was about to find out as I made the journey forward to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Till then,

hooah

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