Travelblog SA#24: Cusco & The Sacred Valley Part 2 – Peru

25th-30th October 2018

After my foray to Machu Picchu, I returned to Cusco for a while.  A place I had already spent a few days at (which you can read about here in a previous blog) but was drawn back to because of its old antiquated charm and there was still plenty more to see, not just within the city itself but also within the Sacred Valley just outside it.

I ended up spending almost an entire week, but I did my sightseeing at a relaxed pace. I had my boleto turistico now, so I had access to plenty of sites. I will not bore you with every single museum and relic I visited and instead focus upon the highlights.

 

Pisac

Although I found its ‘traditional market’ a little touristy, Pisac’s ruins are a must-see if you are exploring the Sacred Valley and just a short bus ride from Cusco.

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You can reach the Inca ruins by climbing up a steep trail from the central plaza or, for those of you who don’t want to get sweaty, you can catch a taxi to the official entrance on the other side. But if you do this make sure you still see all of the ruins, as the most interesting ones are a little further out.

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Just like in Ollantaytambo, I did notice that the guides here seem a little lazy. If you do get one, clarify with them how far they are actually going to take you into the complex as, when I was there, the (rather underwhelming) parts which just so happen to be near to the car park were crowded with people on tours, but places like Inti Huatana were pretty much empty.

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Not that I am complaining. It meant I got wander around them mostly to myself.

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Whilst on the way back to Cusco from Pisac, you can also see two other smaller sites called Tambomachay and Puka Pukara if you like. I enjoyed visiting them, but I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to ruins. They are conveniently very near to the road, so it is easy to get off a bus and hop on another one afterwards, but I wouldn’t say that they are must-sees if you are short on time.

 

Moray and Salineras

These two sites are located quite close together but cannot be reached by public transport, so they are easiest booked as a tour from Cusco.

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If you already have your boleto turistico then Moray is worth getting off of the bus for. Some of the people on the same tour bus as me waited while we were taken around this site though because it is not included within the BT (and it is admittedly not really worth it if you are not planning to see any of the others included in the ticket).

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Most people just take a photo of it from above and then leave, but you can wander down into it if you like. Although it is quite easy to get bored of this site visually, it is quite interesting from a historical perspective. The lower levels never flood, no matter how much it rains, and archaeologists are still not completely sure why. They also discovered that there are slight differences in temperatures between the terraces too, proving the Incas found an ingenious way to create a series of microclimates between the different levels. It is believed they grew different variations of crops in them.

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Salineras was definitely the highlight of the day though. Being privately owned, it is not part of the boleto turistico but only costs ten soles to enter. Built by the Incas hundreds of years ago, it is still a fully functioning salt mine today. During the rainy season, the irrigation channels fill all the individual pools and then, over the course of several months, they dry out until it is time for harvest.

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Chinchero

I originally intended to spend a night at this place on my way back from Ollantaytambo, but I couldn’t find any reasonably-priced accommodation so decided to make it as a day trip from Cusco instead.

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This village often gets compared to Pisac, as they are both home to a market and a series of Inca ruins. Chinchero feels like more of a genuine Andean town though. Whilst wandering around you will see lots of people clad in traditional clothing and its market is definitely for the locals as well as tourists.

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The ruins are not quite as preserved or impressive as Pisac’s – the colonials built a church on top of them – but the setting is lovely.

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The church is very interesting too. Its inner walls and ceiling are covered in old, faded, but beautiful murals. It was one of the most memorable ones I have seen in South America so far, but unfortunately, it is forbidden to take photos inside so I can’t show you any of it.

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Around the back of the ruins, there is also an old Inca trail which leads into another valley if you fancy seeing some extra scenery.

 

Sacsayhuaman

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Just a short walk from Cusco itself, these ruins are a great example of the Inca ’s masterful wall-building.

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They are also situated upon a peak overlooking the city, meaning you are in store for some great views. I cannot recommend these ruins enough

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Museums

There are two art museums included in the boleto turistico, the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo and the Museo de Arte Popular. Both are okay and quite close to the main plaza. If you are walking past, then pop in, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to see them. Same with the Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha which, apart from its interesting collection of trepanned and elongated skulls, is just a collection of non-engaging artefacts and poorly translated displays.

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The Museo Historico Regional is quite good though. It is set within an old colonial building and gives you insight into the history of Sacred Valley from both an ecological and anthropological perspective.

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Last but, definitely not least, is Cusco’s Museo de Historia Natural. I actually enjoyed this place, but not entirely for the reasons intended. If you have a thing for laughably bad taxidermy, then this is a place for you.

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It is not included within the boleto turistico but, at only three soles for entry, it will keep you entertained for a few minutes, and it is (to be fair) one of the few museums in Cusco which is reasonably priced.

 

Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo

A surprising bonus included on the boleto turistico. Every evening, this place has a one-hour performance of traditional Andean dances from the Cusco region accompanied by live music (a video here). It was a perfect way to finish off my time in the Sacred Valley.

 

For more photos from Pisac, Moray, Salineras and Chinchero, click here.

More photos from Sacsayhuaman are included in my Cusco album.

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Travelblog#32: Pulau Weh – Sumatra, Indonesia

14th-19th December, 2014

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During my time on Pulau Weh I stayed at Yulia’s Guest House. It may not have had a sandy beach but its restaurant area balanced over the water, and the background sound of waves breaking against the rocks, more than made up for that.

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I was a little tired from my jungle trek and my bus journey through the Gayo Highlands, so I didn’t do much at first. I rested, slept, and the next day I woke up with enough energy to jump into the sea and swim over to the nearby Rubiah Island for some snorkelling. There wasn’t much coral – much of it had been swept away by the tsunami in 2004 – but there was lots of fish, and I even spotted a moray. There are some efforts currently underway to create an artificial reef, and on the day I was there I witnessed some divers busily attaching corals to concrete objects which had been dropped to bottom of the seabed, to help encourage more to grow on them.

When I swam back to Yulia, Dominique had arrived and was sat in the restaurant area. For those of you who haven’t read my other blogs; Dominique is a Canadian girl I keep bumping into because we are taking similar routes through Sumatra. The last time I saw her was at Lake Toba, but we already knew when we parted back then that our paths would cross again. She had a new friend with her; Oleg, a young German man she met on the boat.

After a quick catch up over breakfast, the three of us wandered over to Iboih Dive Centre: Dominique was interested in getting her PADI Open Water Diver certificate, and Oleg and I were just interested in general diving. The prices we were quoted were remarkably cheap (probably the cheapest I have come across in Asia so far) and the outfit seemed quite professional, so I told them I would be going under with them the next morning.

Over the two days which followed, I ended up blowing the last of the funds that I had put aside for diving. I saw barracudas, turtles, several mimic octopi which we watched for a while as they shifted their shapes to impersonate the corals around them, dozens of morays, and countless of other species that I cannot even name. Most rewarding though, for me, was the underwater landscapes of dramatic canyons, caves and ocean walls – all covered in beautiful coral, and teeming with schools of fish.

I spent the rest of my time on Pulau Weh relaxing: I read books while lazing in my hammock, wandered around Iboih, I made a few friends, and in the evenings I ate at Oongs Restaurant, where Oong herself a cooked up a delicious family style buffet dinner of vegetables and fish every night.

On my final day there it was raining but I knew that, despite this, there was one last thing I needed to do before I left: a motorcycle tour.

I still had not got back behind the wheel since my little accident on Lake Toba, and it felt like something I needed to do soon to regain my confidence. Pulau Weh was an ideal place for this because the roads are good and there are some attractions around the island which I wanted to check out, so, I packed my raincoat, snorkel and a bottle of water into my daypack, and set off.

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I drove quite slowly and carefully at first, but I soon got the hang of it again and within a few minutes I was roaming around with confidence. Aneuk Laot Lake and the volcano near Jaboi village were both quite disappointing, to be honest – the lake was not very pretty and surrounded by sludgy banks and houses, and the volcano didn’t have a crater and was just a sulphurous gash in the mountain – the coastal road, however, was great.

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What I did find very interesting was the underwater volcano which is just off the shore from a beach near Gapang. It didn’t take long to find it; I just swam out and suddenly found myself surrounded by bubbles escaping from a series of fumaroles. They were only about 10 meters down, so it was very easy to duck dive and get a closer look at the volcanic cracks on the ocean floor.

More photos from Pulau Weh can be found on my Flickr.