Peru’s history has accompanied us since the beginning of the journey. The essence and power that some places transmit are so magical that it is not so strange that many Peruvian people believe in UFOs. Every time we step on an area of Inca ruins we have the feeling that there is still so much to discover! In any corner there might be part of a story that is about to be explained.
Chavín de Huántar
We used the time in the Cordillera Blanca wisely. The first ruins that we visited were in Chavín de Huántar , a town in the area of Huaraz, together with Gisela. It is a small town that due to the ruins is quite touristy, so we found lodging and restaurants. We visited the entire village , the ruins and then the museum. It was very worthwhile since the parts of the ruins were well documented, and it also explained the history of the discovery.
Like in the case of Machu Picchu, the people who discovered and unearthed the Inca mysteries were not Peruvian people but foreigners. Explorers and archaeologists who knew about the possible existence of a lost city and walked through the area to find the tip of what would be a large buried temple. With the financial support of schools and international governments ,the excavation began and is still taking place. The day we visited the ruins of Chavín there was the discoverer with all the archeology team, students and professionals, working in some galleries connected to each other by a conduit. Different things have been found in each of them: in the first one it was materials and objects, in the second bones of children and for the rest they were still digging. They suspect that it was a kind of offering ritual or perhaps a burial ceremony.
In general, it is believed that Chavín was one of the largest cult temples of the preincan period, where a large volume of people walked thousands of kilometres to attend to the rituals.
We highly recommend to visit them, since in addition to walking the exterior circuit and enjoy imagining how it would have been, you can enter the temple and visit some of the corridors that have been habituated. They are dark galleries connected to each other by ventilation ducts. It is believed that they used it to create strange effects and noises I order to make population believe that the priest was doing magic. In the same way, there were also some viaducts that reached the central square to make “games” with water. From the plaza there were stairs that had three levels until they reached the top of the pyramid, the stairs were divided at the middle by two colours, white and black. Even the largest access door had half dark stones and half clear. It symbolized the connection between Pachamama, the sky and the sun, between humans and their gods.
It is very difficult to explain the great complexity and perfection of the constructions without seeing them. There is a lot that remains unknown, many of the stories that are told are assumptions so it still gives everyone the possibility to imagine their version.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Chavín ruins are the Cabezas Clava, a pile of heads that have been found and some still retain their authentic place. The heads represent different levels of transformation, it is assumed that after taking Waxuma (San Pedro cactus) or other substances, some human heads transformed into pumas or snakes. They are stuck in the walls of the temple, hence its name.
It is highly recommended to visit them for a price of 5 soles if you are young or student.
In Abancay a couchsurfer told us about some ruins that were better than Machu Picchu but were not as well-known because of their location. They advised us to visit them because they will become more touristy and the prices will go up as it happened with the great jewel of Peru.
We decided to do a walking tour along the short path, a 16km walk. The route starts in Kiñualla and consists in 8 km down to the river and 8 km up to the ruins . Sleep inside the ruins, then visit them the next day and return to the starting point. Fast and easy! So, in two days we should have done the visit and the next day we should be ready to leave with the bicycles to the Salkantay traverse.
In the end it was not exactly as we thought. In the 8 km we went down 1,500m and once in the river, exhausted from a frightening heat. We could not avoid having a good time in the river. Then, the 1,500m rise began again. We arrived to the ruins when it was dark night and we after two hours walking in the darkness, since at 6 o’clock it is already dark. It had its beautiful part, the animals began to emerge from the burrows: snakes, scorpions , spiders and also a lot of fireflies that covered the mountain. A brutal show!
We set up the tent, made dinner and went to rest. Our legs were so done! There were two more tents and a booth with two you guards. They were surprised that we arrived without a guide at that time. They warned us that it was very dangerous what we had done because there were bears and pumas in the zone and not so long ago a couple of foreigners had been attacked and seriously injured and one of them killed. From that moment on we would avoid moving at night.
The next day we dismantled the camp and climbed further to visit Choquequirao. It really was a very big area of ruins, with terraces, Incan houses, cult zones and the typical water channels. We liked it very much, it was the first Inca town we visited and we could not believe that those buildings were real and were not completely rebuilt. We had a thousand questions and there were no explanatory signs anywhere. This is the bad part of not being guided by a local person who has the knowledge.
We picked up the backpacks where we had slept and walked all the way back. We had been told that somewhere in the park they would make us pay 40 soles but we did not find anyone that requested it, neither to enter nor to leave. The true is that the schedules that we did and the access area were not the most common ones, we assume that this saved us from paying.
Back in Abancay after 3,000m ascent and 3,000m descent in 32km, our legs were so painful that we had to rest two whole days! We are used to trekking and mountaineering and could not believe it, but both of us walked like little ducklings.
A highly recommended experience, but perhaps you can consider going the normal way on the other route, longer but not as explosive.
We had a hard time deciding whether to visit Machu Picchu or not. We had visited the ruins of Choquequirao and they had already been spectacular, without the masses or the destruction of the environment. We thought that Machu Picchu has an excessive price and all the tourist display of the area is exaggerated. We do not like the idea that it is a mandatory tourist attraction and everything that this has generated in the environment: Aguas Calientes has become a resort , the road is a train track in constant modification, you get to the door of the ruins with buses and when you put your feet in Cusco hundreds of companies want to take you there at the best prices all inclusive.
Visiting Machu Picchu is expensive even for the Peruvians, since it is not an easily accessible place. However, the price paid by local people is much lower than the foreign rate, as it should be. In general, this is the way to go throughout Peru, there is a price of access for tourist areas that varies depending on whether you are from the country, the Andean communities or the rest of the world. This measure prevents the large volume of tourism from preventing access to local people due to the increase in prices . Even so, they find it expensive and difficult.
We wonder where does all the money that produces Machu Picchu end. It receives an average of 3,000 people a day and the ticket price is about $ 100 if you visit t entirely. Here you have to add the cost of the taxi, plus the train and bus ticket if you do not want to walk, the cost of meals in pizza restaurants, sushi or any other foreign food and also, the nights in Aguas Calientes, since the journey is long if you come from Cusco . We can not even imagine what a foreign tourist that goes the all-inclusive way can spend to visit Machu Picchu.
It is a space managed by the Department of Culture from the Government of Peru, where are the millions generated by the world’s famous ruins inverted? Are they intended for the initiatives, needs and requests of the communities? People say that everything is going to Lima and never returns.
At the end, with all these contradictions in the back and the constant doubt, we decided to go to Aguas Calientes. However, we proposed to only pay access to the ruins and not enjoy any of the amenities.
From Santa Teresa we left without the bikes to climb up to Machu Picchu.
We started walking very early, when the sun began to appear. The backpack filled with water and something to nibble on. Mosquitoes were the most annoying thing in the road, which was quiet and without any difficulty. From hydroelectrica the road follows the train rails, some sections are being reconstructed and small detours but it is easy to follow along. When we got to Aguas Calientes, the town where the buses that go up to the jewel take tourists, we were crushed by the crowd of people, huge queues everywhere, international food restaurants and everything very expensive.
We went to the office to buy the tickets (yes, correct, we went up there without the security of being able to enter) and, besides some small crying for the price , we were very lucky! If you want the complete entry that includes the climb to Wayna Picchu and to the Machu Picchu Mountain the reserve must be done with months in advance but there were still simple tickets at 150 soles, roughly 40 € .
We decided to eat something to endure all day but we went to the local market, where they made the typical menus at typical prices, 6 soles. Then we went straight to the stairs that led to the entrance, some stairs with a lot of slope that made us sweat a lot for an hour and a half.
The ruins are huge and a route is guiding you through but, again, there are no explanatory signs. There, most people pay guides, a good decision to learn and be able to ask. We were stopping by to hear something and inventing stories of what could have been. The truth is that they are not sure about the function or the history of Machu Picchu. There are still a lot of questions to answer, the first is how they achieved such perfection when cutting stones and the alignment of the houses and channels. It is also not clear if the location of the city was due to military fortification issues or spiritual issues. The reality is that doubts fill you treading those paths and imagination doesn’t stop, it has a special energy and brutal landscape that transports you.
After a few kilometres inside the park it started to rain, not a lot but enough to believe that we had already had enough and we only had an hour to go down to Aguas Calientes before dark, at 6pm.
The return was heavy, we arrived at Hydroelectrica at 8pm and we were lucky that there was a taxi there that took us to Santa Teresa! Otherwise, we should have walked two more hours and we were already quite exhausted .
The final conclusion is that, like in all places with traces of ancient civilizations, a melancholic curiosity to know how they built those wonders wakes up inside you. How they lived and what happened. The search of meanings is tempting! We think it’s a good experience to visit Machu Picchu in the way we did. However, from our point of view, it’s not worth it to pay the amount that the agencies request since the Inca essence can be discovered in many other places in Peru at a much lower cost. You pay for “the name”.
Direction Cusco through Moray – Maras
We left Santa Teresa direction Cusco climbing to the Abra Malaga (4.320m, tarmac). The weather was not that good and when we got to the top it started raining, a freezing rain that accompanied us all the way down to Ollantaytambo . On the bike, freezing rain and high speed, quickly became the coldest day we had spent in Peru, very hard.
We rest in a lodging of Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley, a touristy zone due to the Inca constructions that are found in almost every city. From the valley, we climb up to Moray to visit terraces, some of the most spectacular we had seen so far!
A line of cars and buses waited at the entrance and we decided to go ahead with the bike until we had good views. We saw the circular terraces, which created microclimates, each circumference had a certain temperature for each type of crops. Spectacular! After a while a lady told us that in order to be there we should have paid the entrance fee. We apologized and left as it was not our intention to do the walk inside the ruins or spend much more time there.
We continued with our bikes until we reached Maras. There we walk to the viewpoint of the oldest salt mines in Peru, where the internationally famous ” Sal de Maras ” is produced. We spent one night in Maras, a bad night for Gerard who spent it vomiting and with high fever.
The next day we decided to do the last 30km to Cusco by bus so Gerard could rest.
In Cusco we went to a couchsurfer’s home that hosted us for ten days. We liked the city a lot, it was already low season and therefore the city was quite quiet. We visited churches that the Spanish colonization constructed as a replacement to the Inca temples. The Spaniards used the stones of the temples to build the churches, in this way they showed the population that all their beliefs were false and that the true religion was Christianism. A massacre of cultures and their people in the word of God. There are still other interesting ruins in Cusco, since it was the capital of the Inca empire.