To reach Macchu Picchu in Peru, one needs to fly to Cusco and from there, either drive or take the train to Aguas Calientes where shuttle buses take you up to the Incan citadel. The train ride takes 3.5 hours from Cusco and stops at Ollantaytambo Station from where the last 90 minute-train ride terminates at Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Macchu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a lively, vibrant town now called Macchu Picchu Pueblo. One finds many souvenir items on sale here. Very touristy, but if you ask me, I like the touristy vibe of this town.

Cusco is higher than Sacred Valley, which in turn is higher than Macchu Picchu. One may choose to acclimatize in Sacred Valley and save Cusco AFTER a hike in Macchu Picchu. From Sacred Valley, it is only half an hour to Ollantaytambo, where one can visit a massive Incan stone terrace cum fortress / archaelogical site — another testament to Incan mastery of architecture and astronomy. The way from Ollantaytambo to Cusco may consider a pitstop in Sacsayhuaman — another fortress-temple ruins site situated close to and overlooking Cusco. Here, marvel at Incan engineering skills using boulders and stones so firmly hewn together sans mortar. It is mind-boggling how each humongous stone seems custom-carved and fitted so precisely to make up a fortress wall & structure. Unbelievable.

After having one’s fill of archaeological sites and fortress ruins, Cusco offers the alternative of visiting Hispanic settlements, churches and colonial-inspired plazas. Just around Plaza de Armas in Cusco, there are 3 significant churches and monasteries worth visiting.

Inside the main cathedral hangs a painting of the Last Supper where a guinea pig called “cuy” takes centerpiece. Very, very Andean. After all, where else in the world do they serve guinea pig as local delicacy? Just right across this Cathedral is the Jesuit Church (Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus) whose grandeur seems to overshadow that of the 16th century main cathedral that honors the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. Plus, there’s the Convento del San Francisco de Asis and the catacombs. This San Francisco Church and Monastery is attracting crowds mainly for its catacombs but quite frankly, I am not keen about seeing human remains as they give me the creeps.

Before flying back to Lima, we spent time in Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The churches, convents, catacombs and plaza remind one that this is truly an amalgam of Incan heritage and colonial influences. The heart of Incan ancestry and colonial heritage beats here. How they’ve integrated both and preserved each heritage is an experience to be seen and felt. One can easily overread on Peru and the Incan Empire. I resisted the temptation and allowed my books to occupy space, undisturbed, in my suitcase. Instead, I delighted in chatting with Peruvianos, eating their food and listening to our guides whose Incan pride cannot be dismissed. I like that about ANY people or race. Peru. It must be experienced.