The Andean Culture- Part 6


From the Sacred Valley, we took a train to the town of Aguas Calientes (Hot Water). We were getting closer to Machu Picchu! It was a 2 hour ride.


on the train

From Aguas Calientes, we boarded a bus that took us the rest of the way to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The bus drove up narrow switch-back roads. It took 20 minutes.


Aguas Calientes

We had to show our entrance tickets with our passports to enter Machu Picchu.

DSCN3127Peruvians do not like to give credit for the discovery of Machu Picchu to Hiram Bingham. They like to point out that Machu Picchu was being used secretly by a local farmer at the time. Hiram Bingham was a North American. He was a history professor and an explorer. He knew there was rumored to be a lost city of the Incas, hidden beneath jungle forest. He first came upon part of Machu Picchu in July 1911.


Because of Hiram Bingham’s expeditions to Machu Picchu, the world came to know this mystical lost city. In fact, most of what we know today about Machu Picchu is what Hiram Bingham and other historians speculated based on their studies of what they found there.


Machu Picchu was built on terraces or planes. Part of this city was for agriculture and the other part was for rural living.


It may have been a city for Inca nobility. There were not many tombs in Machu Picchu and only the skeletal remains of one hundred and seventy-three persons were found there.


Out of those remains, one hundred and fifty were women which is interesting. They may have been especially chosen to be sun princesses. The Incas worshipped the sun as well as other natural elements such as the earth and water.DSCN3172

Hiram Bingham believed this (above) was a sun temple because it was constructed much like the sun temple in Cusco.


Directly below the sun temple was a tomb for royalty.


According to Hiram’s records, no silver or gold artifacts were unearthed in Machu Picchu, but scholars question that since the Spanish conquistadors never touched this city (having never discovered it) and they raided other Inca sites specifically for these precious metals.


Hiram Bingham did find ceramic, wood, stone, metallic and bronze artifacts however. Many of these, including mummies, were taken to Yale University for further study and research.


Yale kept the borrowed artifacts for years longer than they should have, but eventually returned them to Peru.


Incas may have believed that rock was a living thing and could change to human form.


With all of the sudden drop offs, I would not recommend bringing very young children to Machu Picchu, although this is exactly what we did back in 2005 when Marcus was 3-years old! What were we thinking?


It’s a lot of fun to explore. Notice the trapezoid windows. The Incas loved the trapezoid shape.


After hours of exploring Machu Picchu (and we only explored a third of it), we returned to Aguas Calientes by bus where we enjoyed lunch at one of the many restaurants there.


Aguas Calientes is a charming little town.




This statue is very symbolic. The condor represents the sky. The puma crouched behind the Inca warrior represents the earth.


And on the other side of the statue is a representation of the underworld.

This concludes my series on the Andean Culture. I hope you enjoyed what I shared from our family vacation to Cusco and Machu Picchu.


The Andean Culture- Part 5


PicMonkey Collage

On our way to the Sacred Valley, we visited an animal rescue called, Awanacancha. Here we saw native Andean camelids, such as the llama and alpaca, and other animals, such as the condor. We even saw the condor fly.

On our way out, we spotted a woman sitting on the ground, weaving.


We stopped at a scenic lookout to capture this view of the Sacred Valley below us.


The Sacred Valley has part of the Urubamba River running through it. In Quechua, Sacred Valley translates to Sacred River.


From here we drove down into the Sacred Valley and ended up at the colorful marketplace in Pisac. Pisac is the entrance to the Sacred Valley.

PicMonkey Collage2

I was delighted to find another doll for my collection. I have only been able to find this type of Andean doll here in Cusco. This one stands just under 22″ and is completely handmade.


After shopping for an hour at the marketplace, we gathered up our treasures and made our way to the town, Ollantaytambo, which is at least 9,000 feet above sea level.


Ollantaytambo is one of the oldest villages in South America. During Inca times, Ollantaytambo was a lodging place for nobility.


We explored the popular Inca ruins which Peruvians call, the Ollantaytambo Fortress. It really was not a fortress so much as a ceremonial temple, however.

PicMonkey Collage3

It was so windy that we had to hold onto our hats and our hair was whipping around our faces. There were a lot of stairs to climb.


We stood in front of the Wall of the Six Monoliths.


It really was a fascinating wall to inspect up close.

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Looking out at the Pinkuylluna mountain in the distance, we could make out hikers exploring the ruins there.


It’s a fascinating mountain because you can see a stone face in it. Can you see the face?


The Andean Culture- Part 4



Another beautiful backdrop for a family picture as we continued our touring around Cusco.


In a little town called, Chincheros, we relaxed as we watched a knitting demonstration.


At one point these three women, dressed in native Andean clothing, sang us a song in Quechuan.

They use native plants, seeds, purple corn (which is also made into a drink), berries, etc. to make natural dyes for their alpaca wool.


After the demonstration we bought some of their handmade items for sale and then they dressed us up for a picture.


After we waved farewell, we drove quite a ways to our next stop.


The Maras salt mines, also called, Las Salinas de Maras, were amazing to see up close. We were now 29 miles outside of Cusco, within the Sacred Valley.


Would you believe there are at least 3000 man-made salt wells or pools?


This warm and salty little stream flows directly into the pools.


So the salt comes from a subterranean stream named, Qoripujio, which as been around forever it seems. The sun evaporates the water leaving salt crystals behind which are then harvested by local farmers.


Notice how the pools are terraced. They are not very deep. It was so much fun to walk around the edge and take it all in.


Our final stop of the day was Moray. This is believed to have once been an Inca agricultural center.


The Incas were terrace farmers as I’ve probably mentioned already. Apparently they had a very practical irrigation system in place here once upon a time.


The mysterious thing about these circular terraced ruins is that the temperature becomes quite a bit warmer at the bottom than it is from the top. Marissa and Marcus ventured down, with our tour guide, to experience this for themselves.


Both Marissa and Marcus said it was indeed much warmer at the bottom.


The Andean Culture- Part 3


There are several Andean sites tourists may visit around Cusco. One of them is called, Tambomachay or Tampumach’ay. The name can be broken down to Tampu, which translates to, “collective lodging”, and Mach’ay, which either means, “resting place” or “caves”.


This path runs alongside the Tambomachay river.


The river runs on one side of the path. On the other side of the path lies terraced rocks.

DSCN2841If you examine this photo closely, there is quite a bit of detail of the landscape.


This ruined structure was speculated to have been a military outpost.


Tambomachay is also called, “The Incan Watering Place” or “The Baths of Inca”. Besides worshiping the sun, the Incas also worshipped the water. They made good use of the water here at Tambomachay by running it through a system of aqueducts.


The four trapezoid windows over the waterfalls represent the 4 regions of Cusco at the time of the Inca Empire.


Kenko (also spelled, Qenqo), is believed to have been an Incan ritual site.


Kenko translates in Quechua to mean “labyrinth”.


Inside this cave is an altar where sacrifices were made to appease the goddess of the moon, Killa.


Puca Pucara means “red fortress”.


It is believed that this was constructed to be a check-point for the east entrance to Inca-Cusco during the reign of the Inca Empire’s 9th ruler, Pachaculec.


Unlike other Inca ruins, Puca Pucara seems to have been made for functionality more than appearance.

DSCN2867It may have served as a military check-point for travelers wishing to enter Cusco from the east.


The surrounding views were quite picturesque.


Do you know how to tell the difference between llamas and alpacas? The llama is twice the size of the alpaca and has more tail. Peru is a great place to buy alpaca yarn and fabrics. The first sheering of the baby alpaca produces the finest, softest wool. You can buy alpaca hats, scarves, mittens, sweaters and blankets in marketplaces all over Peru, but you have to know what you are getting because often, synthetic fibers are mixed with the alpaca wool.

The Andean Culture- Part 2


Koricancha was an Inca temple. It was also called, The Sun Temple. Incas loved the sun! They worshiped their sun god, Inti. Koricancha was a shrine to Inti. The word, Koricanca means “garden enclosure” or “golden garden” and in Quechua it means “courtyard of gold”.


Today tourists can visit what is left of Koricancha and also see part of the Santo Domingo convent. The two are connected as the Spaniards built the convent over the original temple structure.


I wish I had my own picture of the outside to show you, but I didn’t take pictures until we were already inside.


The first thing to notice are the amazing carved granite blocks. The Incas did not use mortar in their masonry. Each block is made to fit the blocks around it perfectly, much like a puzzle. And Incas loved the trapezoidal shape.


During this visit, our guide explained a little about what the Incas supposedly believed about the milky way. There was an illustration hanging on a wall, but we weren’t allowed to photograph it. It depicted what the Incas saw when they looked up at the starry night sky above them. They saw in the constellations, a flowing river with animals drinking from it.


Our tour guide was great about taking our family picture at each attraction.


After we toured Koricancha, we visited Sacsayhuaman. Pronounced almost like “sexy woman”, this was once a great fortress. This boulder is ginormous!


Notice how the boulders are fitted together perfectly. How did they do that?


In Quechua, Saqsaywaman (all of these names can be spelled multiple ways) translates to “marbled falcon” or “satisfied falcon”.


The falcon was believed to have guarded the capital of the Inca empire, which makes sense because Sacsayhuaman sits high above Cusco.


There’s that trapezoid again.


My amateur pictures do not do Sacsayhuaman justice.


When the Spaniards seized Cusco, they started taking apart Sacsayhuaman by removing many of the stones and using them to build up a new Cusco.


The views of the valley from the top were very pretty.

The Andean Culture- Part 1


Our family trip to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu taught us some fascinating tidbits about the ancient Andean culture, still celebrated and honored today in Peru. This is part 1 of a weekly series that will continue throughout January. Please note that the pictures I post are my own and the information I share comes from our tour guides and from a book I purchased about Machu Picchu.

When Peruvians refer to their Andean culture, they are speaking of those peoples who originated with the Inca empire.


Located in the southeastern region of Peru, in the domain of the Andes mountains, Cusco is well over 3,000 meters above sea level (that’s over 10,000 feet).

Cusco holds significant meaning to the Andean culture because it was once the center of the Inca empire. Today, Cusco is considered to be Peru’s historic capital.


At its peak of success, the Inca empire stretched into Chile and Columbia and other South American countries that border Peru today, but then the Spaniards came along and completely took over. The Spaniards murdered, plundered and destroyed most of what the Incas had built up (except for Machu Picchu which went undiscovered for centuries), all for the love of gold and the pursuit of the Spanish crown. Ironically, these power hungry Spaniards also introduced Christianity to the sun-worshipping Incas, which is why today, Cusco is a vibrant mix of both the Andean and Catholic religions, merged together.

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For example, it is customary for each roof top to sport 2 bulls on either side of a Catholic cross. The Andean bulls are a good luck charm.


In the main square of Cusco there stands a towering cathedral which was built on top of what was left of the Wiracocha Inca Palace after the Spaniards plundered it for gold. This took place in the 1530’s.

Inside the cathedral hangs a unique painting of the Last Supper. This replica depicts Christ and His apostles eating cuy, which is a traditional Andean meat that is considered a delicacy. Cuy is guinea pig.


Peruvians raise guinea pigs solely for food and sometimes when you order cuy in restaurants you get to select your guinea pig as if it were a lobster.


I took this picture of Marissa holding a lamb, standing next to a woman in traditional Andean clothing, outside the cathedral. My friendly advice to anyone visiting Cusco, wishing to take a similar picture with their child, is to negotiate the cost of each picture before you snap it. (Or feel generous and remember these people live a hard life.)