Archive for August, 2009



Located 2km up on the hillside overlooking the city of Cusco, the Inca fortress of Saqsaywamán, or Satisfied Falcon, saw one of the most bitter battles between the Spanish and the Inca.  Saqsaywamán is the site of the annual Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun celebration each June.  The ceremonies take place at the winter solstice, when the sun is farthest from the earth.  Fearing the lack of sun and ensuing famine, the ancient Incas gathered in Cuzco to honor the Sun God and plead for his return.  Today, hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cuzco from all over the world for the week long celebration making Inti Raymi the second largest festival in South America.


fireworks and a fiesta

cusco fiesta

Our first Friday night in town we stumbled upon a celebration taking place in the center of Cusco.  Music, dancing and an elaborate  fireworks display toward the end of the evening.  I’ve only seen fireworks like this once before, and that was when we were in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Set off from towers that are constructed that same day out of material resembling bamboo, everyone helps in the construction of the towers including the children.  It’s really unlike anything you might see in the States, or judging by the reactions of many of the other travelers, anything you might see in Europe, Australia, Canada, Argentina and the list goes on…

The towers are lit in sections and the attached explosives range from sparklers to rockets to actual real fireworks like you might see on the Fourth of July, except that there’s not several kilometers and/or a river seperating you from them.  And it’s not unusual for parts of the tower to break away from the frame and fly out into the crowd.  Knowing this, we made it a point to enjoy the festivities from a safe distance, though there were lots of people right up next to the towers throughout the entire event snapping photos and dancing.  And despite the fact that I still don’t know what we were celebrating, it was quite an introduction to the city!

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ollantaytambo site

Built on top of two mountains and dominating the valley below, the town of Ollantaytambo is the best surviving example of Inca city planning.  Originally a military, religious, administrative and farming complex, today Ollaytaytambo is the halfway point for trains running between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (Macchu Picchu) as well as a popular stop along the boleto turistico circuit.   Overlooking the town is a spectacular fortress with temples, hillside farming terraces and walls.  The town itself follows a purely pre-Colombian architectural layout and style with narrow cobblestone streets and houses that have been continuously inhabited for over 700 years by direct decendents of the Inca .  En route to Maccu Picchu it’s only possible to travel by bus as far as Ollaytaytambo before boarding the train or trekking the remainder of the way.  That being said, we’ll more than likely be back in town late next month.

Puka Pukara

puka pukara

Our first day trip out of the city we took a collectivo five miles northeast of Cusco to visit the Inca baths at Tambomachay.  From there we walked back to town passing Puka Pukara, also known as the Red Fortress, and the sacred Inca sanctuary of fertility worship, Q’enqo.

Feria de Pisac

pisacThere are different names for weekly markets depending on where you go.  In Mexico the weekly market is referred to as a tianguis.  Here in Peru the weekly market is called a feria.   

Located about an hour outside of Cusco, the town of Pisac is well known for both it’s Sunday feria and the impressive Inca ruins located high on a hillside overlooking the town.  We spent an entire day browsing the artisans, hiking the ruins and my personal favorite; admiring the colorful traditional dress of the local people.

Looking forward to the month ahead

cusco catedral

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

For as long as I can remember Cusco has been at the top of my wish list of places to visit.  Once the foremost city of the Inca empire, today Cusco is the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas and the oldest continually inhabited city on the continent.  Surrounded by numerous archaeological sites and indigenous villages, Cusco attracts thousands of vacationers and travelers each year.  But the biggest draw of all is the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, just a short train ride away. 

Given the city’s interesting mix of attractions, it’s distinctively South American feel and modern traveler comforts it’s the perfect place to take a short break from the constant moving around.  We’ve decided to stay for a month to get a feel for the city and see all that there is to see.  During that time I’ll be taking Spanish classes at Proyecto Peru with the hope that I can finally pull together everything I’ve learned over these past 10 months and become a more confident Spanish speaker. 

We succeeded in finding an apartment we liked almost immediately.   A small, completely furnished, 3rd floor studio located about a 10 minute uphill walk outside of the city center, it has walls that are half windows and extend around the entire apartment offering panoramic views overlooking the city.  Set back from the street our nights are quiet.  In fact, it’s the first time in a while that we’ve had a clean, comfortable and quiet place to sleep.  Normally we’re lucky to get even two out of the three!  

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After settling in to our new place and registering for my classes we were ready to start exploring the city and surrounding area.  As tourists, one of the first things we needed to do was to buy our boleto turístico, or tourist ticket.  A whopping 130 Nuevos Soles, or around $43, buys a single ticket that grants access to 16 popular tourist attractions located  in and around the city (not including Macchu Picchu).  Since the ticket is only valid for 10 days from the date of purchase we’re looking forward to a very busy week of sightseeing.

Arequipa’s anniversary celebration

arequipa celebration

Surrounded by active volcanoes, high-altitude deserts and some of the deepest canyons in the world, Peru’s second largest city of Arequipa, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is  a popular stop en route to Cusco.  Nicknamed the white city for its distinctive light-colored volcanic stonework called sillar which glistens against the backdrop of three snow-capped volcanoes, Arequipa is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in all of Peru.  Adding to the city’s appeal is its climate.  Arequipeños enjoy more than 300 days of sun and clear skies each year.

We were fortunate enough to be in town on August 15th, the day the city celebrates the anniversary of its founding.  Beginning in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday are a series of parades, festivals and fireworks.  The main event is a giant parade through the center of the city that lasts for nearly 10 hours complete with marching bands, floats and lots of traditional costumes, music and dancing.  After which, the city continues to celebrate in various ways throughout the remainder of the month. 

Here are a few photos of my favorite performances from the parade:

parade 1

parade 2






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Be sure to check out the rest of my photos on flickr!