October, 2005. We were in Cusco
to meet our bush plane to the Manu jungle preserve. Unfortunately that
was cancelled owing to broken plane (and there
was no substitute!). So we saw more of Cusco and its environs than
originally planned. Which is not a bad thing since there is much to
see in this center of the Inca empire.
Nearby (about 1 1/2
hour drive) Sacred Valley is a launching point for many trails and
roads into the Andes. Our favorite hike (and the highlight after three
days of exploring the area) was the dirt road and trails to
Pumamarca ruins starting from the center of Ollantaytambo (nicknamed Ollantu).
The road follows Río Patacancha from town
center up hill to hill villages. Before the hike stop at the Ollantu
museum for map and directions.
The altitude range of these mountain excursions is 10,000-12,000 feet.
The studios of the famous pottery artist
Marilu Behar de Seminario [$$,
**] is in nearby Urubamba
(Av Berriozabal 405). Although his art is also sold in a Cusco shop
and two location in Lima airport, Urubamba is the place to go for the largest selection, best price, and a chance to
shake hands with the artist (above photo). We spend a fortune on
Seminario pottery that now decorates our kitchen.
Cuy (Guinea Pig) is a traditional delicacy in
the Andes, going back to the days of the Inca. There are relatively
few places that serve this item. We had ours at a restaurant on the
main piazza in Ollantu. The preparation is long so it must be ordered
several hours in advance. It's expensive. And frankly we didn't
think the price and wait was worth it.
Back in Cusco: there is a trail from
downtown to the Saqsaywaman ruins. Several other, smaller ruins,
beyond Saqsaywaman can be reached by foot or horseback. Horseback
rentals are in a large field between the Sacsayhuaman and Monkey Temple ruins.
We tried horses - and frankly it was not the equestrian experience we
wished for. It would have been more enjoyable to hike the trails that
the horses follow. Downtown Cusco has preserved and restored
many important Inca and Spanish colonial time buildings. This is a
good place to learn about the Inca. Take a lecture tour at museums. The town has five "plazas"
(one famous, but don't miss the others) for evening strolls and people
Best place for dinner in Cusco: Restaurant
Cicciolina [$$,**] . Modern-stylish-friendly-hip-and good
food. We loved it so much, we returned 3 times. Of course
that was primarily because we were stuck in Cusco waiting for that bush plane that
never got off the ground.
SACSAYHUAMAN ruins, near Cusco, Peru, 2005
Cuy - all dressed up and ready to eat.