The Plaza de Armas, the main square 'downtown', was very striking. Typical of Spanish colonial squares, it had a church on one side, a municipal building accross from that, and a federal building and residential complex for the elite on the other sides. However in this square, the church is a grand cathedral, and the federal building is now the presidential palace. There are daily "changing of the guards" ceremonies in the courtyard in front of the palace. In colonial times, the palace was the residence of Fransicso Pizaro, the conquistador of the Incas in Peru.
There were other beautiful colonial buildings around the Plaza. On my tour, we visited the lovely San Fransisco Monastary. It had a garden courtyard surrounded by tiled walkways with Moorish cedar carved ceilings. The massive choir room on the second floor was lined with lifesized cedar carvings of the Fransiscans. The catacombs containing all the bones below were an interesting way to end the tour.
I flew from Lima (Spanish conquistador capital of Peru at sea level) to Cuzco (Incan capital of Peru at about 12,000 feet). The result of the change in altitude was not good! In spite of having taken along altitude sickness pills, I was wiped out on my first day. It really is incredible how devastating that can be - I was really flattened. I tried walking outside my hotel and only made a half a block before I had to return. I could hardly breath, my heart was trying to pound it's way out of my chest, my legs were weak and wobbly, my head was throbbing, and I felt so sick I could hardly stand, never mind walk. The hotel people were somewhat alarmed as they helped me to my room and set me up with an oxygen tank. It's amazing how totally flattened I was for the whole day. The city tour that was scheduled for that day was completely out of the question.
However, after that rough start, I managed the next day to join a bus tour of the "Sacred Valley of the Incas". The scenery was breathtaking, particularly when we visited the ancient Incan sites. I was delighted to be able to repeat part of that route the next day on my train trip from Cuzco to Macchu Picchu. That trip took about 3 hours and I enjoyed every minute. The series of switchbacks taking us up out of Cuzco gave a fabulous overview of the city. The countryside changed as we travelled along, changing from the gentle green Sacred Valley hills to more rugged mountain gorges with an ever-increasingly violent Urumbamba River. The vegetation also changed as we travelled, gradually becoming tropical rainforest. Macchu Picchu is located in rain forest, and beyond there, the Urumbamba joins the Amazon. So although I was on the west side of South America, I was seeing water that would eventually spill out into the Atlantic Ocean to the east of the continent.
The train took us to the base of Macchu Picchu where we took a half-hour bus trip, switchbacking our way up the mountainside. We were surrounded by cloud mist as the river continued to roar below us in the gorge.
Finally at the top, we got our first view of Macchu Picchu. It was well worth any inconvenience to get there! You could still here the river roaring below, even from the top. Also, there were mountains all around the pinnacle, and clouds all around us. It was awesome to be actually standing in the clouds.
The site itself is essentially split into two areas, the terraced
agricultural area (shown below to the left), and the residential
and religious area (shown in the remaining photographs).
Macchu Picchu was a fabulous experience - I recommend it to anyone.