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Cusco and Machu Picchu: Three hotels reviewed

Cusco and Machu Picchu: Three hotels reviewed

I just got back from a trip to three gorgeous – but very different – hotels in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Here’s what I loved about each place…
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Climbing Huayna Picchu (the mountain in THAT photo)

Climbing Huayna Picchu (the mountain in THAT photo)

This short, sharp ascent on narrow paths and stairs is both hair-raising and exhausting. But this is all forgotten when you stand at the top and look down on the wonder that is Machu Picchu. What is Huayna Picchu? Day visitors to Machu Picchu can choose between a regular entry ticket or a ticket that includes hiking to either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Huayna Picchu is the dramatic cone-shaped peak which towers above Machu Picchu in all the photos…you know the one. Machu Picchu means ‘old mountain’ in Quechua and Huayna Picchu means ‘young mountain’. At 8,920ft, it’s the second highest point in the ruins precinct (Machu Picchu Mountain is higher) but it still enjoys great views. This could be you... (Photo credit: Jipe7 on Flickr) Huayna Picchu versus Machu Picchu Mountain If your legs allow it, hiking up one of these two peaks is highly recommended. But which one will it be? Huayna Picchu is much more popular among visitors, and despite the fact that only 400 visitors …
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The Two Day Inca Trail – The Best Kept Secret

The Two Day Inca Trail – The Best Kept Secret

Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu and the subsequent photos published in 1913, in the fledging National Geographic magazine, changed the course of Peru (and the magazine). Today the region of Cusco, which is the gateway to the most stunning of mountaintop Inca citadels, now sees over a million tourists a year. When Bingham first arrived to the site, he traversed the beautiful stone roads that the Inca’s built 500 years prior, a walking path that was bypassed in the subsequent decades by a rail line, built in the 1940’s to bring ever more visitors arriving to Peru, on modern jet airplanes. The Re-discovery of the Inca Trail By the early 1980’s some entrepreneurial explorers recognized the potential of these same paths that Bingham took in 1911 when he re-discovered Machu Picchu (Bingham’s route differed slightly from the current Inca Trail) and created a four day trekking circuit that again changed the course of tourism for the region. It established one of today’s most …
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Five staples of Andean cuisine

Five staples of Andean cuisine

When you combine high altitude, low rainfall and bitter winters you get hungry people. This week’s blog looks at five cornerstones of the Andean diet. Corn Choclo, the most common variety of Andean corn or is much paler than its North American cousin and its kernels are larger, starchier and chewier. Choclo is eaten on the cob (usually with a slice of cheese as choclo con queso) but it also makes its way into soups, stews, humitas and ceviche. What’s more, it’s the base for the quintessential drink of the Andes: chicha, or corn beer. To market, to market... (Photo: Tomas Sobek) While choclo is the most common variety of maize in the Andes, it is by no means the only one. Colors range from white and yellow to red, purple, and black, and Peru alone boasts over 50 varieties. One of the most eyecatching (and delicious) variants is maíz morado, or purple corn which is the base of api morado – one of the most delicious hot beverages I’ve ever tasted. Potatoes The potato was first …
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Lodge to lodge treks near Machu Picchu

Lodge to lodge treks near Machu Picchu

Dilemma: You’ve always wanted to do the Inca Trail but you also value the finer things in life. Get the best of both worlds by doing one of the luxurious lodge to lodge treks on offer near Cusco. You’ll get the chance to hike in one of the most spectacular corners of the Andes and you’ll visit remote villages and Inca ruins. You’ll experience a way of life that modernity has passed by and you’ll spend your last day immersed in the majesty of Machu Picchu. New perspectives on Machu Picchu (Photo credit: Philip Dixon) Lodge to lodge treks give you the chance to live out an authentic Andean trekking experience without having to sleep on hard ground or eat stodgy pasta. On both the Lares and Salkantay treks you can rest assured that the locally-inspired cuisine will be gourmet, the showers hot and the beds luxurious. If the idea of a less crowded, more luxurious and ultimately more spectacular experience appeals, read on to find out more about the various options. The Salkantay Trek …
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Climbing Machu Picchu Mountain

Climbing Machu Picchu Mountain

There’s no denying the 3 to 4-hour hike up Machu Picchu Mountain is tiring, But the views from the top more than make up for the exertion… What is Machu Picchu Mountain? Day visitors to Machu Picchu can choose between a regular entry ticket or a ticket that includes hiking to either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (in Spanish it’s known Montaña Machu Picchu or Cerro Machu Picchu). At a shade over 10,000ft, Machu Picchu Mountain is the highest point in the ruins precinct and it affords those who make the effort with incomparable views of Macchu Picchu. Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu are on opposite sides of the ruins. Huayna Picchu versus Machu Picchu Mountain If your legs allow it, hiking up one of these two peaks is highly recommended. But which one will it be? Huayna Picchu is much more popular among visitors, and despite the fact that only 400 visitors are allowed to hike the trail every day it can get rather busy. Although the ascent is shorter (1 – 1.5-hours) …
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Understanding the mighty walls of Sacsayhuaman

Understanding the mighty walls of Sacsayhuaman

Visitors to Cusco who are struck by how overwhelmingly Spanish the city now appears need only look up towards the incredible fort of Sacsayhuaman which looms over the city; an ever-present reminder that this was once the heart of the Inca empire. Sacsayhuaman’s three megalithic walls are the most astounding example we have of the Incas’ prowess as stone-masons and they are truly a sight to behold. The head of the puma To understand Sacsayhuaman’s importance we have to go back to the time times of Inca Manco Capac, the founder of the city of Cusco and one of the greatest Inca rulers. He laid the city out in the shape of a puma whose body was formed by the Tulumayo and Huatanay Rivers. His tail was the V where these two rivers converge and his heart was the Huacapata (Holy Square) containing the Coricancha. His head was – and still is - the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. What’s in a name? There are more spellings of Sacsayhuaman than there are recipes for Pisco Sour. Sacsayhuaman is the most …
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The Andean Condor: Know before you go

The Andean Condor: Know before you go

Get to know the world’s heaviest flying bird a bit better and read about two of our favourite spots in Peru for condor-spotting. Plus, some startling condor facts… The Andean Condor is a bird of many superlatives. It has the longest wingspan of any land bird (up to 10ft 6in) ; it’s the world’s heaviest flying bird (average of 25lb, maximum of 33lb) and it is also the longest lived bird on the planet (one specimen lived to the ripe old age of 79 years!). It is found throughout the Andes – from Venezuela in the North to Tierra del Fuego in the South – and it features heavily on Coats of Arms, stamps and banknotes throughout South America. Taking a rare break from the skies in the Colca Canyon (Picture: Lina Mon) What’s more it plays a central role in Andean mythology, and representations of the bird have been found in artefacts that predate the Incas considerably. The condor is associated with Inti, the Inca sun god, and is the ruler of Hana Pacha, the upper world. The basics You …
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Choquechaca to Machu Picchu: a visual journey

Choquechaca to Machu Picchu: a visual journey

Deep in the Vilcanota mountain range, on the way to Machu Picchu, sits Choquechaca, a remote valley inhabited by indigenous Quechua speakers whose cultures go back to before the Inca Empire. SA Expeditions and the families of Choquechaca have collaborated to create a unique experience that brings people from around the world to this remote valley in the name of conservation, economic development, adventure and authentic exchange. The gallery below will visually take you along SA Expeditions' four-day, three-night trekking expedition from Choquechaca to Machu Picchu. Meet the Cast No Choquechaca experience would be possible without the guides, chefs, muleteers and women of the valley. This gallery will introduce you to the people who will make your Choquechaca experience unique and memorable. [gallery size="full" ids="7924,7925,7926,7927,7928,7929,8007,8009,8011,8010,7932"] Day One On the first day you will depart from the trailhead at Pumamarka, climbing to 13,000 feet at Azul Cocha ( …
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More than Machu Picchu: An introduction to the Sacred Valley

More than Machu Picchu: An introduction to the Sacred Valley

Although Machu Picchu is without doubt the biggest attraction in Peru (and South America) the fantastic thing about a visit to the Cusco region is that it is located in a valley which is full to bursting with fascinating and diverse Inca sites. The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba Valley after the river that flows along its base, measures less than 100 miles in length. In spite of its small size it formed the heartland of the Inca Empire and one of its most important maize producing regions. This has endowed it with a concentration of first-class archaeological sites that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Over the weeks to come we’ll be looking at some of the most important individual sites, but here is a brief rundown of the most easily-reachable sites in the valley. Qurikancha: Located in Cusco itself, this was the most important temple in the Inca Empire as it was dedicated to Inti, the sun god. A colonial era church (Santo Domingo) is built on its …
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10 things you probably didn’t know about Machu Picchu, Peru

10 things you probably didn’t know about Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, near Cusco, is the most well-known tourist destination in South America and it’s right up there on the world stage too. But most people don’t know much more about it than the fact that it’s in Peru and it was built by the Incas. Read this blog to ensure that you’ll be able to ask your guide intelligent questions when you visit Machu Picchu with SA Expeditions. 1. Machu Picchu means ‘old peak’ or ‘old mountain’ in the local Quechua tongue. Machu has one 'c' and Picchu has two. Get it right! 2. Almost all known Inca settlements, cities and sites were at least partially destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors: one need only visit Cusco to see what they were capable of. Machu Picchu’s location saved it: because it isn't visible from below, the Spanish never found it. 3. Although Hiram Bingham is credited as the first westerner to discover the ruins (in 1911), it’s highly likely that others had been before him – perhaps as many as 40 years earlier. Bingham was definitely the …
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Inca expansion under Tupac Inca and Huayna Capac

Inca expansion under Tupac Inca and Huayna Capac

Tupac Inca Tupac Inca (Topa Inka Yupanqui) and Huayna Capac (Wayna Qhapaq), the 10th and 11th Sapa Incas, were responsible for enormous expansion of the empire. Tupac Inca, ‘the noble Inca accountant’ was put in charge of Pachacuti’s army at the tender age of 23. What he lacked in experience he made up for with bravery and he was responsible for extending the empire across vast swathes of Northern Peru and present-day Ecuador. When his father died in 1471 he took over as Inca – a position he held until his death in 1493. Huayna Capac, ‘the young mighty one’ succeeded his father in 1493. He was a relentless expansionist: strengthening the empire’s foothold in the North (he got as far as what is today Colombia) and making massive strides into the South, by annexing vast tracts of modern-day Chile and Argentina. He also did a lot of good for his people, building temples, roads and food storehouses throughout the empire. Huayna Capac had scores of children, both with his official …
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