Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Saqsaywaman Ruins

Located on a steep hill above the city of Cuzco, the Saqsaywaman (also known as Saksaq Waman, Sacsayhuamán , Sacsahuaman, or Saxahuaman) fortress offers an impressive view of the city and the valley in which it is located. It was constructed by the Killke culture in about AD 1100, and further expanded by the Inca in 13th century and after.

Many guidebooks recommend visiting the Saqsaywaman Ruins before Machu Picchu, but I think it doesn’t matter in which order you see them. We first visited Machu Picchu, and we don’t think it took away from our experience of the Saqsaywaman Ruins. Machu Picchu is a larger site and is located in more impressive surroundings, but the Saqsaywaman Ruins are also quite impressive due to the size of the limestone stones that were used in the construction of the fortress. The largest of these blocks are estimated to weigh between 150 to 200 tons, and are among the largest used in any building in pre-Hispanic America. It is unknown how those huge blocks were put into place.

Also, the precision with which those blocks were fitted into the walls of the fortress is impressive and unmatched in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that–we were told–not a single piece of paper will fit between them. This precision, combined with the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive multiple devastating earthquakes, despite the fact that no mortar was used.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


All in all we spent five or six days in Cuzco, as it was perfectly suited as a base from which to explore the rest of Peru, for many reasons.

First, it is well connected with other interesting places in Peru. Not only it is a gateway both to the Amazon Jungle and Machu Picchu, but it is also just a few hours away by bus from Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.

Second, there are, literally, hundreds of travel agencies in Cuzco that can help you organize any trip you might want (even including trips to other countries, e.g., Bolivia). That means that you can shop around and pick the offer that suits you best. I would even advise against booking any trips in advance, as you will have far more options, and more negotiating power, once in Peru.

Third, there are thousands of hotels, bed and breakfasts, pensions, restaurants, cafes, and pubs in Cuzco, some of which cater to the budget-conscious, while others to the luxury, traveler. The night scene seems quite happening too, so I’m sure you could keep yourself busy here for quite some time. In fact, I’ve heard about travellers who went for a short trip to Cuzco only to find themselves falling in love with the city, and moving here (semi-) permanently.

Fourth, at 3,399 meters (11,152 feet) of elevation, Cuzco is a perfect place to get acclimatized to high altitude, which is crucial for anybody planning to set out for a high-altitude trek in the Andes (e.g., the Inca Trek).

Last but not least, Cuzco is an interesting tourist destination in itself, as there are many important archeological sites dispersed throughout the city. Cuzco’s importance in the world’s history was recognized in 1983 by UNESCO, when it inscribed the city onto a list of World Heritage Sites.

The history of Cuzco is a violent one. The first inhabitants of the region were the Killke people, who established the city in the early 9th century. Three centuries later, the Inca invaded and conquered the region, and made Cuzco the capital of their empire (between 13th century and 1532). Another three centuries passed and the same fate that the Incas inflicted upon the Killke now became their fate. Just as the Inca built on top of Killke structures, the Spanish invaders replaced temples built by the Inca with Catholic churches. Cuzco became the center for Spanish colonization and spread of Christianity in the Andean world. Under Spanish rule, the city flourished thanks to agriculture, cattle raising, mining, as well as trade with Europe. Cuzco retained its importance after Peru declared its independence in 1821 and has continued to grow since, despite being shaken by several major earthquakes. Today, Cuzco is a busy happening city with many beautiful streets and squares, as well as freshly renovated buildings–likely thanks to tourists’ dollars in action.

Cuzco by day and night:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Animals and Plants of Manu NP

“The biological diversity found in Manú National Park exceeds that of any other place on Earth.”

After spending just four days in the park I have no problem believing this UNESCO’s statement justifying the presence of Manu NP on World Heritage List. The number and the variety of the exotic plants and animals we saw in the park were just unbelievable. At a first glance, the animals you can see during an African safari can seem more impressive, but after you take a second look, you will realize that the Amazon Jungle is much more mesmerizing. It might be missing the big game, but it more than compensates for it with the variety and sheer numbers of the small animals. And as far as the plant kingdom is concerned, the Amazon Jungle is the uncontested winner.

Speaking from my personal experience, I can tell you that after a few days on an African safari I would feel like doing something else, but in the Amazon Jungle I could stay, without getting bored, for a month, or even longer. There is just so much to do and so much to see! A small testimony to that can be the photos of a few interesting animals and plants that I posted below.