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Perú - Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

8th August. We arrived in the historic Colonial city of Cusco. The drive through the city to our campsite was a little edgy - super narrow old streets with high kerbs and barely enough room to manoeuvre the van. Having safely negotiated the streets, we settled into our campsite on a mountain above Cusco.

The following few days involved walking the city streets, admiring the many colonial buildings and yet again catching-up with Swiss friends, Margaux & Severine. Sadly the last time we will see the girls for some time, as they charge south to Uruguay and head home. Before leaving Cusco, we visited the Saqsaywamán Inca site perched above the city. The site is a real treat with amazing stonework - a feat of engineering, although soon after the conquest, the Spanish tore down many walls and used the blocks to build their own houses, leaving the largest stones in place, including the battlements.

Moving on, we drove into the Sacred Valley aiming for Machu Picchu. It was a great drive and we passed a number of sites we intended to visit on our return journey. The last 30 miles was slow going due to rough road, but we arrived safely at Hydroelectrica and a car park (our camp) just after dark.

The following morning we were up and out early. The trek to Machu Picchu involved a 12km walk through the valley along a railway track, followed by a steep path up the mountain to the site. We arrived at midday to find the horde of tourists who had taken the easier option of train and bus.

The first 20 minutes in the site was a bit of a pain due to the crowd, but we made a good decision to take another steep'ish hike to the Sun Gate. This got us away from the crowd and gave us spectacular views of Machu Picchu. By the time we'd returned to the main site (2 hours+), the crowd had reduced. Even the mass of tourists cannot detract from the sheer Wow factor of the place and its surroundings. Our day ended with a tired traipse (for me - Rachel still had beans to spare) down the mountain track and to a hotel in Aguas Calientes. A day of 10+ hours walking - 29.2 kilometers on rough ground.

The next morning we hiked the 14km back to the van and set off on a return route heading to Ollantaytambo, another famous Inca site, with a fortress and temple. There, we visited the mountainside site and the old town with its narrow streets (paths). This is one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle. The houses in the town, still in use, have Inca period walls and portals - great looking place.

Our next destinations were the Moray Inca Agricultural Terraces - thought to be a crop testing site as each circular layer has its own micro-climate, Followed by Maras Salt Mines. Both well worth the drive and very special to see.

Next on the list - Chinchero Ruins - yes Inca. Said to be the birthplace of the Rainbow. As with most places 'Inca', the Spanish gave the place a bit of a mauling and of course built a church at the high point of the site. The terracing at Chinchero is fantastic, but for me, the adobe church stole the show. I am not in any way religious, but do admire church architecture - the interior of this one was 16th century special.

Finally back in Cusco, we visited the Machu Picchu Museum and the Temple of the Sun, another Inca site,turned into a Catholic monastery by...... the Spanish.

On leaving Cusco we visited Puka Pukara and Tambomachay, small but interesting ruins, before heading to Pisac, another Inca fortress perched on a mountain spur. Caught out by a storm, we didn't get to explore the whole site, so retreated to a local yoga lodge, where we could camp. Good job as I needed facilities having caught a bug or two! Sadly for Rachel, no yoga on site for the 48 hours we were holed up - and she had to play Nursey!

Once partially recovered, we rounded off our tour of the Sacred Valley with three sites. First Tipon with its impressive terracing and irrigation systems, then pre-Inca Pikillacta, some great walls and a fair amount of rubble, and finally Raqchi, where the walls of the Inca Temple of Wiracocha remain, along with ritual buildings and an array of circular houses - some pre-Inca.

I have to say, it was something of a relief when our 10 day (16 site) Boleto Turístico finally ran out!

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