While the Rainbow Mountain in Peru doesn’t compare to the Danxia Landform Geological Park in China they are still stunning. At 17,060 feet I think this was the highest place we went to…and we hiked almost an hour from the parking lot to get there! Slow but steady, no problems, thankfully.
Some people get up in the middle of the night and ride to the base of the mountain and hike up it. We chose to ride to the nearest parking area to the mountain which is about 3 hours from Cusco. As we rode to the park, we passed a roadside stand that the bus stopped at and a few people bought snacks.
The colors come from goethite or oxidized limonite (a brownish coloration), the bright yellow color may be due to iron sulphide, and chlorite or copper make the green color.
Some people had gathered rocks and made a couple of carens to celebrate their getting to the mountain or perhaps for more spiritual reasons.
It is windy and cold that high (and rain threatened not far away) but the indigenous man and woman we saw wore sandals with no socks. When I asked the man about it, he said he didn’t have the time or money to go to town to get better shoes and socks.
The woman who ran the rest room by the parking lot (complete with water!), told me she had on 6 or 7 layers of clothes, including 3 skirts, a slip, and leggings. The skirt was a heavier, coarser material than I had expected. I won’t say she was warm but she didn’t seem unduly uncomfortable.A few people chose to go to the nearby higher formation but Dan and I passed on that. Not a lot higher but maybe another 100 feet or so.
We took a bus from Puno to Arequipa. Initially the ride was beautiful and verdant but as we got close to Arequipa, it became dry and brown. Those of you who know me, know that I like “cool and green” places. Not hot, hot cold, not brown. (OK, I put up with the dry cold in Durango but I’d rather be in temperatures from 60-80 F.)
In spite of the dry conditions, we enjoyed Arequipa for the few days that we were there. We were the first guests at our Air B and B apartment and were greeted with a gift basket! They wanted to give us gifts when we left as well but we were already packed to the gills so we politely declined, explaining that there was just no room.
We visited a number of places while we were in the area. The Museo Sanctuarios Andes is an interesting place (no pictures allowed) outlining the history of the Andean locals and displaying the remains of a young Incan girl who was sacrificed around 1450 and preserved in the icy area until a volcano erupted and caused her remains to be dislodged. More info on her here.
The Santa Catalina Monastery is a mix of an active monastery (now housed in a new building) and the well preserved original monastery. The walls are thick to keep a more constant temperature. Originally, the young women who joined the group brought their servant(s) with them so that they had a fairly comfortable room and the conveniences of home. At one point in time, the servants were no longer allowed and this made for quite a change for these women who had never cooked, washed, etc. on their own! The view from the roof of the building is wonderful.
We did a private tour of a local quarry and also a small canyon one day. The quarry had a “building” carved into one wall, beautiful work. In another section, we saw where two workers were dislodging large rocks for carving and another showed us how he makes the building stones. Dan gave it a try…hard work and slow for the inexperienced worker. The experienced worker could carve a stone in 10-20 minutes.
Next we went to Quebrada de Culebrillas or Ravine of Broken Shingles. This is a narrow, not very long ravine that starts shallow and quickly gets 20-30′ deep. In it, you can see some petroglyphs from long ago. This area has been declared a national Cultural Heritage.
The highlight of our time in Arequipa was Chivay and the Condor Cross. The trip from Arequipa to Chivay was a few hours and then we spent the night. We were with about 10 or so other people, all men and women in their twenties who worked together and were on a holiday (although they couldn’t tell me what the national holiday was!). We spent the night in Chivay, a small remote town with beautiful outdoor statues. The tour included meals and a dance show that night.
The next morning we met early and drove to the nearby Condor Cross area where you can watch condors soar on the currents. We did see several but they were quite high up so there isn’t a good picture of them. Still it was a lot of fun.
We left Arequipa by plane, one of our few flights during our travels. Even though the city of Arequipa is larger than Cusco, the Cusco airport is much bigger because so many people fly in to see Machu Picchu.
There are two main train companies in Peru, Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Both are clean, comfortable and modern. Of course there are varying levels of service and amenities. The relatively short train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (about 1 1/2 hours) goes through some lush, beautiful areas, often along the river.
The longer train from Cusco to Puno (Lake Titicaca) goes through a long valley for 10-12 hours. It is scenic in a different way however to break up the monotony, they have some staff play music, do local dances, and have a fashion show (merchandise for sale, of course!). The food was excellent on this train and you have white table clothes, wine, etc.
While trains are more expensive than buses, they are faster and more comfortable and still relatively affordable. The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes was under $200 each way for the two of us and from Cusco to Puno, $450 for the two of us, including meals and entertainment.
The trip to Aguas Calientes is much lusher and (IMHO) more beautiful but we enjoyed the trip to Puno as well.
Cusco was founded in 1100, probably making it the oldest city we visited. It is high, 11,152 feet and probably has close to 500,000 people. We were there briefly before we went to Ollantaytambo and then a bit longer after we left the Puno/Arequipa areas. Like many towns in Latin America, it is built on steep land.
One thing we saw very quickly is that the old parts of Cusco has very narrow streets. That wasn’t surprising but what was strange is that these old streets are two ways! This makes for very interesting traffic, lots of horn honking and frustration until one person gives up and backs up out of the way.
We went to a very interesting Inca museum and did some sight seeing. Sadly, most museums don’t allow any photography so we have little record of what we saw.
We didn’t see this often but it was not uncommon for an indigenous person to earn money allowing their picture to be taken. This one has a 2 week old lamb and a 2 month old llama.
Despite what the sign says, you are going to take a train or hike the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. They take you as far as possible by car but then you still have to take the train the rest of the way. (Don’t you love the spelling of the word “by”?)
Here you see some people in costumes representing some of the figures in the Aguas Calientes stone carvings. (Sorry it isn’t clearer, this event was going on as we passed in a taxi or bus.)
All of the buses I remember in Latin America have a driver and someone to collect money. In this case, the woman has her daughter riding along. While she was good for her age, 3?, she was bored and climbing all over. Not very safe but I am sure the woman didn’t have an affordable choice for day care.
There are many stalls and people walking around selling crafted items as well as this beautiful mural. Cusco Art
When we left Aguas Calientes, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo. We wanted to see a few more of the ruins and the general area before we left the Sacred Valley. We enjoyed walking along the sidewalks with ancient stone walls built 500 years ago.
We went on a tour to see some ruins up in the mountains. It was about a 15 minute hike from the car to an isolated area that was once a training facility for the Incas. Now there are a few partial buildings and some llamas grazing in the area. We didn’t see the owner of the animals but there was a young German Shepherd there to guard the animals. He was very friendly, I guess he could tell we weren’t going to hurt the llamas. He followed us partly down the mountain when we left.
When we got down the mountain, the guide told us to wait and he’d go get the car. We didn’t realize we were being set up to have our own, private market! We saw these two females walking down the road with big bundles on their backs. As soon as they got to us, they unslung the bundles and put out their wares. We bought one thing from each of them. It was quite fun except we found out one of the females was 7 years old. Why wasn’t she is school???
We rode to another area where the indigenous welcomed people to their village. There had just been a village meeting so there were a lot of people milling around in their local dress. We talked to one man and he joked that the beaded strap on his hat was for his wife to pull him. The guide told us when to pay a small sum (the equivilent of a dollar or less) for the photos and when not to. Not sure what his criteria was.
I’d been curious when babies started to walk because they are in the slings so much of the day so I asked one mother about this. Children don’t start to walk until age 2 since they aren’t spending as much time crawling, kicking, and moving when they are in the sling.
We saw one lady weaving on the side of a mountain. She was all alone, working away. In the village we also saw people weaving. I would think that it is very hard on their backs to sit on the ground for long periods of time weaving.
Dyes are made from plant roots, leaves, seeds, and berries. The colors are beautifully bright and they wear their clothes with much pride.
There are ancient terraces almost everywhere you look. It was not uncommon to see cows or llamas grazing on one of the tiers.
Roofs often have a little bull on the top which is thought by the locals to bring good fortune to the house. It was fun to see them.
It is difficult to explain the feeling when you arrive at Machu Picchu. After 14 switchbacks on the bus, you are discharged into the parking lot. Until you go a little way past the ticket stalls, you can’t see the ruins. But once you get where you can see them, they are everything that you ever imagined or saw in a picture.
When they commercialized the area, they were careful to preserve the actual ruins and surrounding area so that you can have an inspiring view. And it is truly inspiring! While the ruins are not that high, 7,972 feet, about the same as the Blue Spruce RV park where I am typing this post, they are on a peak and there is a lot of openness in the area that is awesome in the fullest sense of the word. I felt on top of the world.
People have asked us what our favorite place in our travels was and this place is it for me, hands down.
Even though thousands of people visit the ruins every day, we were fortunate to come on the end of the low season so it never felt really crowded. Currently, 2500 people are allowed per day to this UNESCO World Heritage site, split between morning and afternoon entry. You can find tickets on several sites online, about $70 per person (Peruvians are less). The bus was $25 per person, round trip.
If you are adventuresome, there are 500 people allowed to hike the 4 day trail to Machu Picchu each day. The hike requires a guide and is a bit expensive because you are well fed and there is staff to carry the tents, tables and chairs, food, and sometimes some of your own gear. The days are sometimes a bit challenging but the lady I spoke to about her experience was delighted (and amazed!) that she had done it.
Pictures can’t really share the sacred, awe-inspiring experience but they will help.
The architecture is typical Inca with no mortar needed to hold the stones together. You can even put a level on the stones and they are level! The stones were carved on sight and workers have to work continuously to keep things in good shape. And of course, there were llamas roaming freely…ignoring the tourists that invade their home.After we looked around the ruins with our guide (optional but recommended), we hiked up to the Sun Gate. Not a really long or hard hike but longer than I expected. LOL
Huayna Picchu is a mountain peak that is seen behind many of the pictures of Machu Picchu. After reading reviews that it wasn’t that long or hard, we had bought tickets to hike it the day after Machu Picchu (only 400 people per day can get tickets to climb it). By the time we went to the Sun Gate, 8,924 feet (an elevation change of about 950′) I decided I didn’t want to hike Huayna Picchu the following day. The altitude at Huayna Picchu is also 8,924 feet.
Dan went and said it was a good thing that I didn’t go since there were very steep steps/rocks to climb that would have been difficult for a shorty like me.
His comments about Huayna Picchu? Awesome! Steep! Surprised to find ruins at the top…it would have been a lot of work to get the stones up there. Incredible view. Here are some pictures from his hike.
His advice is that although tickets are sold to visit Machu Picchu and climb Huayna Picchu the same day (because you have to go through Machu Picchu to access the trail to Huayna Picchu), it is best to separate the two activities over different days if you aren’t a youngster. This means buying a second ticket just for Machu Picchu if you want to spend much time visiting that famous site.
Since there are no roads to Aguas Calientes and we didn’t want to hike 4 days on the Inca Trail (OK, Dan did want to hike a day or two but you can’t decide this at the last minute since there are so few tickets permitted and besides it is an all or none proposition…no hiking part way).
The train to Aguas Calientes wasn’t completely full but the return train was. On the train out, there had been a problem with our meals not being vegetarian/gluten free (easiest way to order for Dan’s preferences). The conductor/manager/whatever his title was remembered the date/time of our return trip and he presented us with a small bottle of Pisco and a shot glass. Pisco is an alcoholic drink from Peru and Chile and is used in many mixed drinks. It was nice of him to remember us.
The ride itself is scenic and we chatted a lot with our seatmates on the way out. They were from Switzerland but they were actually from some other countries.
It takes just under 2 hours one way for the ride on these modern comfortable trains. There are two companies who provide this service, Inca Rail and Peru Rail. We rode both trains during our stay in Peru.
I had heard that the Ingapirca (Inca Wall in the Quechua language) Ruins, a couple of hours outside of Cuenca, were worth visiting and it’s true. Originally settled by the Cañari indigenous people, they were invaded by the Incas in the late 1400’s. Eventually they intermarried and got along, not requiring the Cañari to give up their culture which exists today.
The location of the ruins has been used by different peoples over the eons. When the Incas arrived and conquered the Cañari, they built a town over the existing settlement. The Cañari used random shaped stones and mud or something to hold the stones in place while the Incas used rectangle stones (often squares) and didn’t use any mortar to hold them in place.
Some highlights of the ruins and the day:
There are a number of burial tombs, including one that was of an important female who died and had 10 followers surrounding her in the grave to go with her into the next life. Apparently those individuals were chosen for this “adventure” and took some poison and were all in the fetal position.
There is a large stone marking the burial site as well as many small smooth stone directly over the grave. The large stone is lined up exactly with a pathway and on the summer and winter solstices, the sun shines directly on the stone as it rises on it during one of the solstices?
The Sun Temple rises high above the area and is the only oval shaped sun temple built by the Incas. This reflects the Cañari influence. The temple is aligned halfway between two mountains which are 24 KM apart. On good days they could use reflective metal to send messages to the temple and then pass them onto the next mountain. On days without sun, a runner would go from one mountain to the temple to pass on a message and another runner would take the message onto the next one. This would happen repeatedly as needed.
The Sun Temple was built over a very large stone which was considered sacred by the Cañari. This stone is no longer visible because of the temple structure.
On top of the Sun Temple there are two identical rooms which are back to back. They each have 3 small alcoves where the sun shines through the door opening into the corresponding alcove to indicate the solstices. There is also one larger area where apparently a mummified priest’s body was kept and could be seen by the current priest during ceremonies.
We had an English speaking guide who I’m sure is from the area, and probably Cañari based on his passion for the history and events. He taught himself English over the last 5 years and did an excellent job. The most interesting guide we have had yet!
The entrance fee to the park is $2 per person and no charge for the guide however there is no charge for seniors…what a deal!
This is one of the very few places where we have seen signs in Quechua (pronounced ketch you wa). This is the native language of many people in Ecuador and Peru.
It was a full day event to get there and back via 3 buses there and one bus and one taxi back. We left at about 8:10 in the morning and didn’t return until about 7 that night.
Our hostess, Miriam, went with us which helped to navigate the buses immensely. She had never been there before and enjoyed herself as well. She took the Spanish version of the tour.
We had a bit of extra time the afternoon before we left Baños so we decided to take the Casa Del Arbol tour. The tour was 2 1/2 hours and cost $4 per person plus $1.50 in entrance fees per person. What a deal!
The first stop (in the same Chiva as the waterfall tour) was at a place that I can’t find the name. This is too bad because I was relying on pulling up some pictures or website online to show you this incredible swing. It makes the Casa del Arbol swing look like a regular playground swing by comparison.
For this swing, you had to wear a helmet and you were strapped into the swing seat and then sent out from a raised platform maybe 12-15 feet off the ground on the edge of a ridge. I saw one boy about 12 or 13 after he got off of it and he was almost in a daze and had to sit down. LOL
I didn’t do either but just to give you an idea, for the Casa del Arbol swing there was a line of 50 or more people and each person got about 30 seconds on the swing which went out over the overlook but it was a relatively gradual slope.
Even the observation tower was a challenge at the first place. I went up to the second of 4 levels and it was swaying so much I went down. Dan went up all 4 levels, of course.
The tree house at Casa del Arbol wasn’t bad although I only went up the first level.
Incidentally, the Casa del Arbol was built as an observation post after the eruption of Tungurahua Volcano in 1999. In early 2000, the entire city of Baños was evacuated for up to a year. They were evacuated once again in 2014 for a short time. You can see a nice write up about this activity here.
PS, Tungurahua is quiet these days but still considered active. No steam or anything to see at this time.
See how close our bus got to another on the way down the mountain! They inched past each other on the narrow road.