Peru is a fascinating country. It is the centre of the Inca empire and located in the Andes mountains. It has spectacular ruins set against the backdrop of magnificient mountains. However, what really struck me was the friendly people and relaxed pace of life.
Our visit begins in the city of Cusco. It’s situated high in the Andes mountains at 3415 m (11210 ft) and surrounded by spectacular scenery. This was the capital of the Inca empire, and today is the major stopping point for travellers.
The Inca empire ended with Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquest. Cusco was soon transformed with Spanish architecture, such as a town plaza with churches and fountains.
The capital moved to the costal city of Lima (because Spanish strength was in sea power). However, this allowed Cusco to preserve its old buildings and charm.
The amazing thing is that the streets and foundations of many buildings in Cusco date back to Inca times. The fine Inca stonework still stands strong.
These are some huge ruins a few kilometres outside of Cusco. The layout of Cusco is shaped like a puma - a sacred animal to the Inca people - and these zig-zag shaped ruins forms the teeth of the puma. Though there are other theories that say they resemble lightning bolts.
Further away from the city is Pisac. Perched on top of a high mountain, it is a streneuous hike to the top. This is made even more difficult by the thin air at this altitude.
At the top is the Temple of the Sun area. Inca buildings mostly had stone walls and thatched roofs, which is why only the walls survived.
This room is known as the Temple of the Moon. Inca buildings had walls which slanted inwards. This gives them great strength to survive earthquakes.
Pisac is on a mountain above the Sacred Valley. Through the Sacred Valley runs a river. The river is already several thousands of metres above sea level, and the Pisac ruins is on a mountain about a thousand metres above it!
The modern town of Pisac is down near the river. It has a popular market which sells crafts as well as food and produce.
Further up the Sacred Valley is Ollyantaytambo. This structure made of six large stone blocks is at the centre of it. Like many Inca structures, it is built up the top of a huge mountain and the rocks were hauled up by manpower - they don’t do things the easy way!
At the base of the mountain is the town of Ollyantaytambo. Notice the Inca building halfway up the steep mountain on the left. Supposedly that was a grainery.
This picture shows clearly the trapezoid shaped gateways and niches which is a common feature in Inca architecture. Notice how well the stones have been extremely well carved so they fit into each other. The protrusions from the stone walls are a unique feature in Ollyantaytambo.
Another popular feature in Inca architecture is the terraces, which were very important for agriculture in mountainous areas. These are some of the terraces around the base of Ollyantaytambo.
The streets of Ollyantaytambo today still follow the original Inca layout. Peru is a place where people are friendly and you’ll find children and dogs playing in the streets. However, even in this small rural town, in a mud-brick building, through that open door, you’d find something quite unexpected - an Internet cafe and computer gaming centre!
Slightly off the beaten track is this amazing place: a salt farm. A salt water stream flows out of the mountains. These salt pans have been created to collect the salt water and to let it evaporate.
After the water evaporates, the deposited salt can be collected. Salt was a very valuable commodity in ancient times. Today much of the Peru’s salt comes from the coast, but this salt farm is still in operation.
Also off the beaten track are several of these curious circular terraces.
The temperature varies greatly between the different levels. It is believed that these were a part of an ancient bio-technology facility for breeding and selecting plants suitable for the high altitude climate. The Inca empire’s had a very rich agriculture base. Today there are many different types of crops (such as corn and potatoes) being grown in Peru. This is quite a contrast to the western world where the economics of scale has meant that only thirty plants make up 95% of the plant food that is eaten.
The highlight of any trip to Peru is Macchu Picchu. The ruins are large and well preserved. However, the most spectacular thing about Macchu Picchu is its setting - surrounded by incredably steep mountains, dense Peruvian jungles and winding rivers.
Strangly enough, no one knows much about this site at all: why it was built, what it was for, or why it was forgotten for so long. The Inca empire didn’t have writing, so no records existed. There have been many theories, many were often wild guesswork, but no real evidence - no one knows!
Of course, despite all this uncertainty, the site is still one spectacular place to visit. The views are stunning.
One of the buildings in the centre of Macchu Picchu is circular and built around a rock. The popular guess is that this must be a Temple of the Sun.
More typical Inca stonework at Macchu Picchu.
Large terraces at Macchu Picchu. Didn’t these guys think of building down in the plains rather than at the top of a very steep mountain?
A native alpaca wander through the ruins.
About two kilometres away from Macchu Picchu is the town of Aguas Calientes. (That is one kilometre straight down the steep mountain and then one kilometre following the banks of a winding river with steep mountains on either side of it.) It is a ramshackled place, filled mainly with restaurants and hotels that cater for travellers. The only way to get to it is by train - there are no roads to it. Here we see restaurants and shops built right up to the railway line.
Chincheros is a tranquil town about an hour’s drive from Cusco. The local bus will take you there for about AUD$1.00. There is a Spanish church and plaza in the town.
In the plaza, locals sell various handicrafts to the tourists.
Most visitors pass through Chincheros quickly. They won’t see these huge terraces at the back of the town, nor experience the peace and tranquility of the countryside. Peru was a wonderful place to visit, where one can escape the pace of modern life, experience ancient civilization and the timeless qualities of nature.