Cusco and the almighty Machu Picchu

We had a few days to explore Cusco before heading off towards Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is the #1 tourist destination in all of South America. The city of Cusco is the gateway to this destination, which by my calculations would make it the #1 Touristy city in South America. Despite the constant barrage of touts slinging everything from guided tours to 15-minute massages we found the town to still have some noble charm. Though sometimes you needed to muscle your way past a lumbering group of Llama-sweater clad gringos to get to it. Having a massage experience was awesome I wish I had that facility of tantric massage near me or near my hometown.

We roamed around the many large parques and admired the beautiful colonial churches and buildings.

There are a plethora of Inca and pre-Inca ruins surrounding Cusco aside from the big dog Machu Picchu. This ruin was located just a 5-minute walk from the campground. Sacsayhuaman (try saying that 5 times fast) is a sprawling walled complex which contains over 200 separate archeological sites. The walls were made up of giant meticulously carved boulders, some weighing up to 70 TONS! How the ancients carved, transported, and placed these giant stones is still a mystery to us all.

Since we were in the land of the touristas we decided to live it up. We got down on all kinds of Peruvian treats.

Here we have, the neon-yellow bubble-gum flavored Inka Kola. This drink is the #1 softdrink in all of Peru. I have yet to meet a foreigner who could stomach the stuff. I learned the the Coca-Cola company tried for years to defeat Inka Cola in a war for beverage market share in Peru. However, after 30 years of trying and not making any ground they went ahead and purchased the Inca Kola company all together. If you can’t beat em… buy em!

The #1 Alcoholic beverage of Peru. Pisco Sour. Pisco is a type of liquor made from distilled grapes. It is insanely popular here in Peru. My favorite Pisco drink is a Chilcano, basically ginger-ale and Pisco. A traditional Pisco Sour is made with 1.5 shots of Pisco, egg whites, simple syrup, lime, and ice. Blend it all together, add a single drop of bitters for decoration. Drink up!

Vanessa and I got down on an Andean specialty. Alpaca meat! Alpaca is a furry cousin to the llama. Alpacas have been farmed for centuries. Their wool is used for clothing, their meat used for sustenance, and their bones used for jewelery and tools. Not a piece of the Alpaca goes to waste. Especially not when I am at the dinner table. Properly prepared Alpaca rivals the best filet mignon. It is a delicious meat which could be big in the states as long as no one ever saw the cute animal it comes from.

We strolled around the giant Cusco mercado. The market is split into two sections.. The first section contains various arts, crafts and clothing from the highlands. The second section (my favorite section) is a traditional food market along with rows and rows of sit-down eateries.

My favorite food stall was the frog soup lady. She had a bucket of live frogs and a giant pot boiling with frog broth. You pick your frog, into the soup it goes and a few minutes lady you have a bowl of fresh frog soup. Cures what ails ya!

We spent the rest of the day touring around being dopey tourists.

That night we met up with our Canadian friends (freshly decked out in the latest Llama fashions) and we got to drinking.

and drinking… and drinking some more. We ended up at a small locals bar later that night where we danced our face off till 3AM or so. Good times had by all.

Next morning we were up and packed the truck. Feeling a little groggy we stopped for some Peruvian pick-me-ups. A cup of Coca leave tea and some Coca hard candies and we were wired up ready to go.

A quick stop by the Nacional Banco de Peru to pay for our Machu Picchu ticket (~$50 per person) which is about 25x more expensive than every other ruin in Peru… and we were off!

The drive from Cusco to Ollyantantambo, where we would catch the train, was spectacular. We dropped in and out of various little pubeblos and passed at least 5 separate Inca ruins along the way.

My favorite town sign represented their hometown specialty. Cuy Al Palo AKA Spit-roasted guinea pig.

We had originally planned to drive the 4×4 route as close to Aguas Calientes (the final town before Machu Picchu) as possible, but with light dwindling and no real idea on a route, we decided to catch the train from Ollyantantambo to A.C instead. It was ~$50 per person per ticket per way!

We found a cheap lot to stash the truck and posted up while waiting for the train, the ruins of Ollyantantambo as our backdrop.

Lauren, of course, managed to make a new dog friend in our 30-minute wait.

The train was surprisingly fancy and you got a little snacky-snack to eat as you gawked out the panoramic windows engulfed by giant snow-capped mountains.

We arrived into Aguas Calientes just as the sun was setting. An unremarkable maze of a town. Machu Picchu “Made in China” knickknacks flooding out of every store front.

We found a cheap hostel, grubbed out, and hit the hay. We had to be up at 430AM to try and catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu in the morning.

Up before the dawn we rounded up some bus tickets, ~$9, and queued up. We thought we were slick getting up early, seemed like everyone else had the same idea and we were around the 300th or so in line. Eventually the buses actually started running and the line moved fairly quickly, shuffling all our sleepy butts up the mountain.

Dumped off in front of the insanely expensive Machu Picchu hotel (which I later learned was accidentally built on-top of some Inca ruins, nice going guys!) we queued up in yet another line.

Battling our way through the line we made a mad dash up towards the terraces near “The Guardhouse”, one of the best viewpoints, and waited for the sun the come up.

From our terraced lawn we watched the sun slowly rise over the rift. We could see no other life but the llamas grazing sleepily on the tall grass. The crazy 30 hours of driving, the boatloads of spent cash, and the dopey tourist towns all faded away as we soaked in the moment. This is what we have been working for…

We took some time just sitting there enjoying the early morning then started touring the ruins.


Lauren making Llama buds

or at least trying not to get kicked in the face!

More ruins!


Inca Bridge. Wooden bridge spans ancient path, the Incas would pull up the bridge when they did not want intruders to pass. Pretty slick.

Final Thoughts.

Machu Picchu, as you can see, is an epic sight. There is no argument there. That being said the entire process surrounding getting to this ruin is a damn racket from end-to-end. Everything is incredibly overpriced and a true testament to foreigner price-gouging.

So should you still go see it?

Hell yes.

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  • Mark

    Looks impressive. I’d love to see it.

    • HomeontheHighway

      Hey Mark,

      They have it set up real easy as long as you have some cash to spend. Fly into Lima, catch a plane from Lima to Cusco, Train from Cusco to Machu Picchu. easy peasy. Com on down!

  • Aaron

    James, seriously, I just had the same Kuhl jacket stolen three weeks ago, what did the thief look like that you bought it from in the mercado? Just kidding. We are on separate continents. Hilarious, enjoy yours. Great post and pics, keep it up!

    • HomeontheHighway

      Its a great jacket, I picked it up for $15 at the used gear sale in REI about 2 years ago. Return reaon was “zipper didnt work”, I tried the zipper and it worked just fine, shes been zipping up and down across Latin America!

      Sorry for loss, I would be pissed if I lost mine

  • Juergen Klein

    Hi, I love your style of writing… Just a short question: campground in Cusco – is “Quinta Lala” still operating?
    I had read from several people that is was supposed to close down in early 2012… Or is there a new campground?
    Juergen from (I guess you guys know our camping list?!)

    • HomeontheHighway

      Hey Juergen, Yep we stayed at Quinta Lala it is still there and running just fine. I believe the originally owners left and gave the place to their employees who are doing a great job with the place.

  • Abby

    awesome blog! I can’t believe you’ve been on the road over a year. What does the fun stop? By the way I found your blog via AdventureAmericas. Crazy what happened to them in Peru. Be safe there!

    • HomeontheHighway

      thanks Abby, hopefully never!

  • Ken K

    Love the Napoleon reference.