What set Cusco apart for me was the spectacular views you could see throughout the city. Coupled with this is the beautiful architecture seen from old churches and archways, cobbled streets and tasteful street lamps. I loved walking around and getting lost, finding new things and searching for nothing in particular except the unknown around the next bend.
About 3 months before the trip, we had booked through a local travel agency and paid for the 5-day Salkantay trek. The more popular Inca Trail is apparently usually fully booked 6 months ahead, so we settled for the former, which was highly recommended and we were told just as beautiful if not even more so than the latter. Read about why booking for your trek ahead of time is not a good idea here.
The Inca Trail is part of the Inca Road System which stretched, cross-country, through most of South America for a staggering 40,000 kilometers. It included 2 roads running parallel to each other, one along the west coast and the other high up on the mountains. The roads were mainly used for official military and civilian communications and movement and distribution of supplies on foot or on pack animals like the llama or alpaca.
Unsurprisingly, the most famous portion of this road is the trail that leads to Machu Picchu, owing to the fact that this 500 year old ancient city – or estate as some sources say – remained a mystery to the Spanish conquistadores that caused the latter’s abandonment a hundred years after it was built. This left the stone walls and steps in pristine condition even after so long, unlike many other sites which the Spaniards pillaged and vandalized. It wasn’t until early in the 20th century that Machu Picchu was discovered by outsiders and began to gain international attention.
After a few days in the beautiful city of Cusco, taking the time to acclimatize slowly as recommended, we set off early one morning with a van to take us to the jump-off point in Mollepata, which stands at 2,900 meters above sea level, even lower than Cusco.
Read about my awesome time hiking the Salkantay trek here.