Savannah Grace

Cusco, Peru

Continuing through Peru with Ammon and Sasha:

Returning to Cusco we opted to rent a nice little airbnb apartment rather than risk another bad hotel. It was a nice choice for us and enabled us to cook our own food and hide away from most of the hassle. We used Cusco as a base to explore not only the city itself but a few more surrounding attractions.
Our initial hotel experience put a damper on Cusco that it never fully recovered from. I’d heard so many nice things about Cusco and people staying longer than they’d planned and enjoying so much that I expected it to be somewhere nice and special. It never did it for me. The city is bigger than I thought which meant more traffic, pollution, noise and hassle than I expected and with the number of tourists passing through the scam factor and ticket prices are pretty high. Overall I wasn’t overly impressed with the value at the budget end of things.
Cusco was the Incan capital and later became an important Spanish settlement. In the historic core of the city you can see where the Spanish simply built their own colonial structures directly on top of Incan stone bases. The central plaza (called Plaza de Armas in every Peruvian town) is big and beautiful, lined with nicely restored colonial buildings (though now home to modern establishments like McDonald’s and KFC) and 2 large churches. This plaza was the central hub of the ancient road network, called the Qhapac Nan, that the Incas built connecting an empire that stretched from Colombia to Chile. Remnants of this Incan highway can still be seen throughout South America but as all roads led here, it was our best bet to appreciate it. There were a few more historic buildings worth noticing but we only gave Cusco a couple of hours to discover. Mostly we spent our time outside of town visiting other places.

Plaza de Armas


Plaza de Armas colonial balconies


Plaza de Armas


Colonial buildings built on Incan stone on the right side.

On the road between Pisac (previously written about) and Cusco are 4 more Incan ruins, Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, Q’enqo and Saqsaywaman. If not for the fact that they were included on the general tourist ticket already and were so close together, we would not have visited them all. The only one that is really popular of the 4 and worth more than 15 minutes is Saqsaywaman, the closest of the bunch. It was an Incan fortress and scene of a major battle between the Spaniards and Incas but the most impressive aspect of it is the size of the stones that they managed to transport to that location and fit so well together. It is mostly the remains of the walls of its multiple layers that still stand but Saqsaywaman is also nice because it sits just above the old town, offering great views of Cusco and is an easy walk once you are used to the altitude.

Tambomachay, believed to be an Incan spa


The small fortress of Puca Pucara
The top of Saqsaywaman


Multi-tiered defensive walls


Impressive how well the stones fit, even around corners
Cusco old town from Saqsaywaman. Plaza de Armas at bottom left

From Cusco we also did a day tour out to Palccoyo, the alternative destination to the hugely popular (at least on Instagram) Rainbow Mountain. In a perfect example of social media’s influence on travel trends, Rainbow Mountain was an unknown location only a few years ago. A few photoshopped pictures later and they can’t even manage the hordes trying to go. Fortunately for us, the mountain is actually in a remote mountain range (nearly 3 hours from Cusco) that has multiple multi-coloured mountains. Palccoyo is one of these other mountains in the same area. Tours run there but they aren’t really advertised. My research had pulled up the name and if we asked, the tour agencies would admit that it existed and some could arrange the trip (by combining or selling you off to the few companies currently going there).
Think about this for a second. You are a travel lemming. You want to go to Rainbow Mountain and take the now classic social media shot. You start a tour at 5am, drive for hours, walk a couple km at 5000m and then fight with the masses coming from dozens of other buses for a photo that pretends you are the only one in the world there. Or….  You do a bit of research and realize that that sounds like a rough day. You find the alternative which involves starting a tour at 7:30am, drive for hours, walk 30 min at 5000m and enjoy the views and surroundings with only your group of a dozen others in a place that still feels pristine. The tour companies will tell you that Rainbow Mountain is better and has more colour. To them I say I can make my bedroom floor look like a rainbow with enough photo editing.
In the end Palccoyo was actually pretty cool. You need strong sunlight to make the colours stand out better and we had a cloudy day so the colours came and went but we still had pretty amazing scenery and beautiful views of one of Peru’s highest mountains in the distance.

On the way to Palccoyo. A traditional Incan rope bridge beside a Spanish colonial one.


Looks rainbow enough for us



Some cool rock formations and views as well.


With that accomplished we were ready to leave the high elevations of Cusco and head back towards the coast and out of the mountains for a brief change.


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