25.10.11

The city founded by the siblings of Inti, the sun god

Legend has it that the siblings of the sun god Inti, Manco Cápac and his sister and wife Mama Ocllo, emerged from Lake Titicaca charged with the task of founding a new kingdom that would improve the living conditions of the people. They walked until they found a place where Manco Cápac could sink in the earth his large sceptre of gold and, thus, arrived to the city we know today as Cusco in Peru . The new kingdom was to be known as the Inca Empire. Before going any further, I must point out that Cusco is around 3,400 metres above sea level and at that altitude, to put it simply, there is much less oxygen, so you may suffer from altitude illnesses. This is not as serious as it sounds and it affects people in different ways (you may have headaches, feel nauseous and weak) or not at all. In my case, for example, I was lucky and it did not affect me. You should drink plenty of water, avoid tobacco and alcohol and take it easy, at least at the beginning of your stay. There are also medications, like Diamox that allows you to breathe faster, and that your doctor or pharmacist can prescribe. You can also try the local remedy which is "mate de coca" (or coca tea) which is made from coca plant leaves. It is safe to drink and is given to visiting dignitaries on official visits, but I suggest you make your own enquiries about it.
The hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Monasterio , a stay I shall never forget. A former monastery dating from 1592 where, if you wish, you can have oxygen pumped into your room. The hotel is part of the Orient-Express chain and you could combine your stay there with the visit to Machu Picchu in the Hiram Bingham luxury train and maybe a stay at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge hotel, which is the only hotel located adjacent to the site. The Hotel Monasterio is just by the main square, the Plaza de Armas, and thus, walking distance from most of the places there are to see in Cusco (the Cathedral, the church and convent of La Merced, the area of San Blas and the amazing walled complex of Sacsayhuaman, just outside Cusco, where the Inti Raymi festivities in honour of Inti, the sun god, take place every year on 24th of June). I would also advise a visit to the Pre-Columbian Art Museum . However, the "jewel in the crown" of any visit to Cusco is the  Inca site of Machu Picchu, about 80 kms. from Cusco. The site is impressive and when you first see it you will probably experience a sensation of awe, at the enormity and beauty of the place. I imagine, the same feeling that Hiram Bingham had when he first came across the site. To get there, you can either follow the Inca Trail; take the luxurious, and expensive, Hiram Bingham train; or the more moderately priced vistadome , with a glass roof so that you can enjoy the scenery. The train ride of around 4 hours will take you to the station of Machu Picchu Pueblo, from where you will have to take a bus for the 30 minute ride to the actual site. It is also important to point out that given the number of visitors, the authorities have placed a daily limit to the number of visitors that can access the site. It is therefore advisable to book in advance, either buying a package at PeruRail or at the official Machu Picchu site.

To end this post a recommendation that you try the Peruvian cuisine, which will be the theme of another post. In the meantime, just remember: ceviche, ají de gallina, causa, and the cocktail Pisco Sour!!

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