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By: Diana Zlamalik
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Tiahuanaco
When my friend Diana mentioned she was travelling this spring to Peru and Bolivia I started listening carefully. When I suggested that she should write a blog about this trip, she accepted right away. This is a full 2 week exploration of Peruvian and Bolivian highlights. For now I will post only itinerary of this interesting trip and upon Diana’s return you’ll be able to read about the whole trip experience. Come and experience the magic of the Inca Empire’s fascinating culture and archaeology.
Conquering South America’s western edge, the Incas ruled three distinct geographic regions that Spanish soldier-chronicler Pedro Cieza de Leon termed uninhabitable: rainless coastal deserts, mountain ranges towering more than 22,000 feet, and steamy rain forests. On slopes rising four vertical miles, climates in the empires varied from tropical to polar.
In scattered areas on these slopes, at both high and low elevation, the Incas terraced and irrigated the land and produced abundant food for the twelve million or more subjects. A 10,000-mile network of roads, some as wide as 24 feet, knitted together the Incas’ domain. Parallel trunk lines-connected by lateral roads tracing river valleys-followed coast and highlands. Four main highways entered Cuzco, the heart of the empire.
From the left and down: a) Deer adorn, a Chimu religious vessel. b) Inca jug, possibly held holy drink. c) Chimu necklace, of gold and pearl. d) Rare Inca solid gold figurine – 11 inches high. e) Gold hand and arms sheathed Chimu mummy.
Their love for precious metals was esthetic, for neither Incas nor their subjects needed to buy anything. Twelve million or more worshipful people rendered abundant tribute to the Incas and paid their taxes in work: a billion man-hours a year to build temples, fortresses, agricultural terraces, and roads- all for the grandeur of the realm.
” The riches that were gathered in the city of Cuzco alone, as capital and court of the Empire, were amazing and incredible,” a priest penned more than four centuries ago, ” for therein were many big gold houses and enormous palaces of dead kings with all the unimaginable treasure that each amazed in life; and he who began to reign did not touch the state and wealth of his predecessor but… built a new palace and acquired for himself silver and gold and all the rest….”
Cuzco became the richest city in the New World. Chiefs and governors, made presents to the Inca, when they visited his court and when he went to their lands, while touring his kingdom. This wealth grew daily, for provinces were many and others were continually being brought to obedience.
It was prohibited to remove silver and gold from Cuzco. ” Nor was it spent, in things that are consumed with use,” but for idols, goblets, and ornaments for the temples, the king, and great nobles. As money did not exist, rulers paid their retainers in clothing and food. Author William H. Prescott’s account of imperial splendor ,persuade us, that life among the Incas – even to taking a bath - was the epitome of pleasure.
The Incas, “loved to retreat, and solace themselves with the society of their favorite concubines, wandering amidst groves and airy gardens, that shed around their soft, intoxicating odors and lulled the senses to voluptuous repose. Here, too, they loved to indulge in the luxury of their baths, replenished by streams of crystal water which were conducted through subterraneous silver channels into basins of gold.”
GOLD: fiery metal esteemed by the Incas for its beauty and sought by the Spaniards for its worth. Exciting the greed of conquistadors, it brought an empire to ruin. To Incas, gold was “the sweat of the sun ,” and it reflected the glory of their Sun God who, they believed, had entrusted them with its safekeeping. Gold took on value only when crafted into ceremonial articles – vessels, jewelry, figurines – or adornments for tombs and temples,. By law, all gold and silver of the realm belonged to the emperor, who used it to bedeck his palace, beautify temples, and reward loyalty. Most gold – in the form of nuggets and flakes – came from mountain rivers; Incas smelted the ore with charcoal and bellows. They learned much of the craft from artisans of the Chimu Kingdom, who created countless vessels and ornaments. Spaniards reduced such works of art into ingots, easy to transport and exchange.
Trip Itinerary – From Lima to La Paz
Day 1 Arrive Lima
Peru is frequently referred to as the ‘Land of the Incas’. It is true that the Incas formed the greatest empire on the continent and left mysterious cities such as Machu Picchu. However, it is important to remember that the Incas were the only the last in a long series of Peruvian civilizations spanning several thousand years and the ruins of many of these earlier civilizations can also be visited. Peru is made up of three main geographical areas: the Andes, the Amazon and the desert coastal area; during this trip we concentrate on the Andean region of both Peru and Bolivia.
Known as the City of Kings, Peru’s capital city Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima, and it is here you find the Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral dates back to the 1700s and houses the remains of the conquistador Pizarro. To get a feel for colonial Lima, take a cab to the Plaza de Armas and watch the changing of the Palace Guard in the afternoon. Walk the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to get a taste for life in a large South American city. An optional city tour visits many of the city’s highlights.
There are many fine museums in and around the city, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses an equally impressive collection of pottery, mummies and textiles from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. The more affluent coastal districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro offer good nightlife and cafés all within walking distance. Limeños (Lima’s residents) are friendly, and the city is filled with excellent restaurants; seafood lovers in particular should be sure to try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.
Day 2-3 Cuzco
Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travellers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 20th century way of life; one could easily spend a week just in and around the area. Inca-built stone walls line most of the central streets and you don’t have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend.
Cuzco’s numerous colonial churches are one of the city’s most common sights. The Cathedral was started in 1559 and took 100 years to build; it is also one of the city’s greatest repositories of colonial art. Immediately in front of the entrance is a vault containing the remains of the famous Inca historian, Garcilaso de la Vega. Also worth visiting are the churches of La Compañía, La Merced and San Francisco.
While most ruins are just outside of the city, the main ruin within is that of the Coricancha, once the Inca Empire’s richest temple. Today the ruin forms the base of the colonial church of Santo Domingo. During Inca times this temple was literally covered with gold, but within months of the arrival of the first conquistadors this incredible wealth had all been melted down. It is left to the individual imagination to envision the magnificence of the original structure.
Day 4 Ollantaytambo
Travel with our local guide through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. An important source of food for the Inca, the Sacred Valley is a lush agricultural region that continues to supply the city of Cuzco with much of its produce. Visit the impressive Pisac ruins and the colourful artisan market (market days only). The day trip finishes in the picturesque village of Ollantaytambo, site of another large Inca ruin. Here we catch our breath and prepare for the hike ahead.
Ollantaytambo is your first taste of what lies ahead on the Inca Trail. The town and fortress of Ollantaytambo are strategically situated overlooking the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. This major ruin site is known as the best surviving example of Inca urban planning and engineering. It is admired for its huge steep terraces guarding the Inca Fortress and for being one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the conquest. We spend the night in this small town before heading out for the start of the hike the next morning.
Day 5-8 Inca Trail
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is physically challenging but worthwhile, and the excursion is within the ability of most reasonably fit. It is a 40-km (25 mile) hike, with 3 high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13776 ft). The trail is often steep, and it may rain even during the dry season. The temperatures at night may fall below zero, so it is important to come prepared.
Depart Ollantaytambo for km 82 where we begin our walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Our local crew of porters, cook and guide look after us well for the duration of the hike. Porters carry the majority of the gear for the hike, so those passengers doing the hike only carry a small daypack with water, rain gear, snacks, a camera, etc. As you walk the trail that linked this ancient empire, admire breathtaking views at every step as we move from high plateau areas to dense cloud forest. Depending on the season, you may see a great variety of flora, including miniature and large orchids, and fiery rhododendron bushes.
You pass several smaller ruin sites, the first of which is Llactapata. The second day climb the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4198 m (13769 ft) above sea level, this pass is the highest point of the trek. The second pass of the hike is at 3998 m (13113 ft) where on clear days, we enjoy superb views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba. The trail goes through some beautiful cloud forest on the gentle climb to the third pass, where you will walk through a causeway and a tunnel, both original Inca constructions. The highest point of the third pass is at 3700m (12136 ft). On clear days you are rewarded for all this work with beautiful views of the Urubamba Valley below. Soon you reach the serene ruins of Phuyupatamarca, or the ‘Town above the Clouds’, at about 3650 m (11972 ft) above sea level. We camp for the final night close to Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) ruins, a grandiose terraced hillside site, with panoramic views of the valley below and just a short hike from Machu Picchu.
On the final day of the hike we climb the steps to the Sun Gate overlooking the peaks that surround Machu Picchu. There is no way to describe the feeling of the first views of Machu Picchu, as the mist rises off the mountains early in the morning and the famous ruin appears in front of you.
Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archaeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian Hiram Bingham (who was in search of Vilcabamba) to the site on July 24, 1911, that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many unanswered questions remain.
You have the better part of the day to explore the site. In the afternoon, we have the chance to soak in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes before taking the train back to Cuzco.
Day 9 Cuzco
Cuzco is considered the mecca of Peru and rightly so. This beautiful colonial town offers much to the visitor with its nearby ruins, cobble-stoned streets, museums, churches and lively atmosphere. Among the more adventurous optional activities available in Cuzco are: horseback riding around archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara; white water rafting on the Urubamba River; and mountain biking down to the Sacred Valley, perhaps visiting an Inca ruin along the way.
Day 10 Puno
The trip from Puno to Cuzco takes the better part of the day, with stark, beautiful scenery en route as you travel through the high Altiplano region.
Located at 3830 m above sea level, Puno is the highest altitude of any place we sleep on the tour. As a result the weather can be extreme with very cold nights and a strong sun during the day (don’t worry, if you get cold, buy an alpaca sweater from the market-they are inexpensive). Puno is also known for its wealth of traditional dances: there are up to 100 different varieties, usually performed in the street processions celebrating Catholic feast days. If you are fortunate enough to be visiting at the right time you may even catch one of these celebrations. A popular optional activity in Puno is a visit to the spectacular chullpas (funerary towers) of Sillustani, a pre-Inca archaeological site.
Titicaca is also the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from both Amantaní and Taquile Islands are stunning.
Day 11-12 Lake Titicaca / Taquile Island
This morning we’ll board a boat on Lake Titicaca. En route to Taquile Island we stop on the floating reed islands of the Uros people. An overnight homestay provides an opportunity to learn more about rural life in the Peruvian highlands and to participate in the local traditions.
Our first stop on Lake Titicaca is at the floating islands of the Uros people. The Uros began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the Colla and Inca tribes. Sadly, the Uros language has died out, and today the islanders speak Aymara due to intermarriage with Aymara-speaking clans. Today about 300 families live on the islands, however their numbers are slowly declining.
The Totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake are used for making everything from the islands themselves to the model boats that the islanders sell. The islands are made up of layers upon layers of reeds; as the layers closest to the water start to rot, they are replaced with fresh reeds on top. The reeds are also used to build their boats, which if constructed well will last up to 6 months.
The people of Taquile Island’s unique culture, style of dress and lifestyle make for a memorable visit. The men of the community do all the knitting, as this is strictly a male domain, while the women do the spinning. High quality, locally knitted goods are available for purchase at various cooperatives on the island. Despite the short distance that separates the two islands, Amantaní is quite distinct. Its soil is a rich terra cotta red, due to the high iron deposits, and the colour contrasts brightly with the deep azure blue of the lake and sky and the greenery of the local crops. For the night we split into smaller groups and billet into family homes to experience their style of living first-hand.
Day 13 La Paz
The day begins with an impressive journey along the shores of Titicaca, to the highest capital city in the world, La Paz, Bolivia.
Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) is the highest capital in the world. Although Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is the Bolivian centre of commerce, finance and industry, and the de facto capital. This is a busy modern city, with its centre at the base of a canyon 5 km (3 miles) wide and sprawling impromptu housing all the way up the surrounding hillsides. The city is at nearly 4000 m (13,120 ft) above sea level, so visitors should be prepared for cool evenings and mornings.
Explore the city’s many fine museums or its historic ecclesiastical structures, such as the Iglesia de San Francisco, whose architectural details reflect the indigenous and mestizo heritage of modern Bolivia. The city is also renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market), where Paceños and visitors may purchase potions and incantations made from all sorts of herbs, seeds, and secret ingredients to remedy any number of illnesses (real or imagined) and protect from evil spirits. With streets lined with market stalls and vendors, the pace on the street and the vibrant atmosphere is an incredible experience. There is also a thriving black market and a Carnaval market, where locals purchase carnival costumes. You’ll also find a wealth of shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, mainly alpaca wool products, silver jewelery, woven textiles and leather goods.
Day 14 Tiahuanaco / La Paz
Little is known about the Tiahuanaco people who constructed the great ceremonial centre on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca over 1000 years ago. We spend most of the day visiting these mysterious ruins before returning to La Paz.
Day 15 Depart La Paz
About Diana Zlamalik:
Diana (Dina) is my long time friend who was born in Zagreb (Croatia), the same city where I was born. Dina has Undergraduate and Masters Degree in Veterinary medicine from the University of Zagreb. She immigrated to Canada twenty years ago and now lives in Oakville (Ontario) with her family. Dina plays guitar and is very passionate about classical music. She is currently attending 5th class at Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. During this trip she will travell together with her son Borna. They left Toronto on April 24th 2009, on board Air Canada flight to La Paz (Lima).
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