From Ancient archaeological sites to Pristine Nature, from literally hundreds of varieties of corn and potatoes to the fusion cuisine at a Chifa, Peru is indeed a land of plenty. I had the good fortune of organizing a workshop and giving talks at a couple of Universities in Peru. This provided a great opportunity to explore the country. During the first visit most of my time was spent in Lima except for a short trip to the sacred valley, and in the next trip the order of stay was reversed. I had a chance to explore both Lima and the sacred valley. Also had the privilege of making good friends in the process. Part one of the blog is about Cusco and the Sacred Valley (circa 2017) and second part is all about Lima (circa 2013), a city quite worth visiting in its own right.
As the historic capital of the Incas, Cusco deserves a visit in it’s own right, though for most people it is the gateway to the sacred valley of the Incas (Urubamba). A and I flew in from San Francisco to Lima, in late July and we had a flight out to Cusco early next morning. Since we were essentially transiting through Lima we stayed at the Manhattan Hotel in Callao near the Airport, this is a little too pricey for the services they provide, but if time is of essence there aren’t many choices, the only redeeming feature is the very helpful staff there. We took a short walk around the area, got some Rotissere Chicken (Pollo Brasa), a Peruvian favorite, and fruit for dinner from the local market. To get to Cusco from Lima there are several options, the simplest of course being flying in to the Alejandro Valasco Airport. However if one is feeling more adventurous and there is time, a 21 hour bus ride will also get one there, this has the added advantage that the route is through Nasca and one can take a detour to see the wondrous Nasca Lines. Since time was of essence and I had a conference to attend in Cusco, we took a flight there.
The flight is about 90 min and since its a very popular route things usually go smoothly. At Cusco a van from the Hotel Sonesta, where we had a booking picked us from the airport. The hotel turned out to be a great choice, both in terms of facilities and the staff, it is definitely recommended. We took a little walk around town, heading towards the main square (Plaza de Aramas), as it was a Sunday there was a parade going on which was a nice treat.
Plaza de Aramas
This is the main square in town since the Inca times. Today however it is dominated by buildings from the Spanish era, which include the Cathedral and the old campus of the University. The plaza is also surrounded by restaurants, cafes and shops with a large number of people always mulling around. It is also where protest on various issues are organized, as it seems the authorities are very wary of any disruption to life around the plaza. As a matter of principle I try and avoid restaurants at touristy places, but we did have lunch at a restaurant on the plaza, with a stunning view.
A short walk from the squares is the Mercado San Pedro, a covered market, A spent quite a bit of time exploring the place.
Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad
This is the oldest university in Peru and was founded in 1692. The old campus as mentioned is by the Plaza de Aramas, the new campus a few miles away. My friend Roxanna, had invited me to give a talk at the Latin American Bio mathematics Conference at the university. The opening ceremony of the conference was at the old campus at the plaza, with the followup sessions at the new campus over the next few days.
Of course, as usual I did not remember the change of venue, and the next morning showed up at the old campus only to find it deserted with a guard at the door informing about the venue change. He was nice enough to hail a cab and haggle about the fare (cinco sols) for me. One of the things one notices in Peru is that rather low cab fares, the 5 sols (about a $1.75) bought me a 15 min cab ride to the new campus. The conference was well organized and well attended, the only issue for me and a few others was that most of the participants and speakers were form Latin America and gave talks in Spanish (of which I have a very rudimentary grasp). Had a good time meeting colleagues and talking to students, including a former student and friend Rocy. On the final day there was a cultural program, presented by students of the university, even I got to scare people with my dance moves!
To get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, one can either take the train or one can travel to Ollantaytambo or Urubamba via car and take the train form there. The last part of the journey to Machu Picchu has to be undertaken via train as there are no roads all the way. On an earlier visit (with Muds and K) we had taken the train from Cusco, this time around we decided to take a cab to Ollantaytambo and then an early train form there to Aguas Caliente (the town
next to the ruins of Machu Picchu). We had arranged the trip through a travel agency (I would recommend this, as they take care of all the tickets permits etc). We took a cab to Ollantaytambo, starting in the evening, right after my talk. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hr trip turned into a 4 hour journey due to a truck being stuck at a hairpin turn in the mountains. We got to our hotel, ‘Sol Natura‘ around 10 pm. The manage/owner was a very nice and helpful gentleman, and the hotel itself has good facilities, I would highly recommend it for a stay. The owner it turns out was German and had retired with his Pruvian wife to this scenic place. The next morning they were gracious enough to provide us a hot breakfast at 6 am and we were able to catch to 8 am train to Aguas Caliente. We were met at the station by our tour guide and after a coffe and pastries at a cafe in town w were on the way to Machu Picchu. This is a 15 min bus ride from the city or one can climb up via stairs carved into the hillside, this would take around 45min of a moderately strenuous climb. The tour of the ruins lasted for about 2 hours, the guide was very knowledgeable, having visited once before without a guide I would definitely advise taking a guided tour as one gets so much more out of it.
On an earlier trip with Muds & K, we also made a day trip from Cusco to Pisac, a town known for its market. It is an hours drive from Cusco and a nice little town to spend the day. The market itself, offers local crafts as well as consumables and there are many restaurants and cafes around. I tried some tea with Alpaca milk, was slightly gamey but one could get used to the taste. We also bought some handicrafts including a nice painted gourd and some trinkets.
But there is much more to Peru, including the capital city of Lima, which is definitely worth visiting, next up my experiences in the city of Lima……