The Preface to Machu Picchu

by Brian Carroll on October 22, 2012

After a night in Lima, I caught an early flight to Cusco, a beautiful city that serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu.  Cusco, which is the most visited tourist city in Peru, is city of blended cultures:  that of the Incans who founded the city and the Spanish, who later "colonized" much of the area, often building over original Incan architecture.  Ultimately, the result is a current city atmosphere that presents historic buildings, relaxing plazas and cobblestone streets that incorporate stonework from over 500 years ago. Now Cusco sits at an elevation of 11,200 feet (compare that with a place like the "Mile-High City" of Denver at 5,280). As such, anyone who comes to the city must take a couple days to properly acclimate to the thin air or otherwise risk getting altitude sickness which can be life threatening. Just climbing 50 0r so steps on my first day to get a view of the city, I felt first hand how the altitude challenges you - it was tough! Over the next few days, I met a group of American girls (from Dallas), visited some of the local tourist sites in the area and had a couple really nice Peruvian dinners. That leads me to a point about food in Peru – it's awesome, and it's pretty cheap. I tried some of the traditional dishes: Alpaca steak (like a llama), lomo saltado and aji de gallirina which were all excellent. The key dish I have yet to try though was fried guinea pig - served with the whole shebang in tact: head , claws, etc... Cusco was a very enjoyable city and I could easily spend a week there, but in order to make my way to Machu Picchu (where I would ultimately be meeting up with six of my friends from LA), I had to keep moving, catching a bus to the town of Ollantaytambo (which has military ruins outside of the town - see pics) and then a train to the town at the base of Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes (which is where I would stay the night before Machu Picchu, enabling myself an early start to hiking the ruins).

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