This article is from the October 2019 Issue of Forever Young

By Steven Tuck
Photos: Roy Gillespie and Steven Tuck

fyng october 2019 feature 
Sacsayhaman is the largest archeological ruin from the Inca Empire.  Roy Gillespie (left) and Steven Tuck were impressed by the massive main plaza of the once centre of the Inca Empire.  (It seems appropriate that it is “five football fields” in size --- look at Roy’s shirt!)

Editor’s note:This is the third in a series of travel articles of the recent custom excursion to PERU by Roy Gillespie and Steven Tuck, both of Kelowna.

The main attraction in Peru is definitely Machu Picchu (M. P.), and to get there you will undoubtedly go through the capital of the ancient Inca Empire, Cusco, sometimes spelled Cuzco.  Indeed, some of the trails to Machu Picchu even begin near here.  Cusco sits very high in the Andes at about 2 miles above sea level.  If you plan to go to M. P. it will be suggested to fly to Cusco and immediately go down to the Sacred Valley and M.P., which surprisingly enough lies lower and by doing this helps one to acclimatize to try and avoid high altitude sickness.  High altitude sickness, which usually involves being at higher than 8,000 feet, is dangerous and can be fatal.  But more on this later.

Cusco is a modern city with about half a million inhabitants.  We were told about 90% are involved in the tourism industry!  It lies in a valley which is difficult to fly into and most recommend flying in or out in the morning to avoid delays.  It is about an hour flight to Lima on modern 737’s.  Our flights were very comfortable on both Latam and Avianca. 

We stayed at a wonderful hotel --- the Sonesta Hotel located in the historic center of Cusco.  A 4-star hotel, we were on the fifth floor with a balcony and had a great view facing a fountain and park.  A fifteen minute walk from the main square --- Plaza de Armas and Cusco Cathedral.  There are a lot of museums in Cusco --- including the Quechua Museum, Cusco Craft Center and the Centro de Textiles.  The breakfast buffet was terrific (included in our room rate) and we dined there a few times and enjoyed not only the food but also the live entertainment provided by a very talented pan flute player.  (He played other instruments as well and sometimes two pan flutes at a time!)  They provide oxygen for high altitude sickness, too! 

Mira Sol, our guide for the day, met us in our hotel lobby and we spent an incredible day with her, touring not only the city but also the local ruins.  The guides we had were all top notch!  (Thanks again to Anas of Off The Map Adventures for custom building our tour including excellent guides, drivers, some meals, and more.)

The main attraction is higher up from the city and is the center of the ancient Inca Empire, Sacsayhuaman, which many English speaking tourists have come to call “Sexy Woman”!  This fortress is made up of three large terraced walls.  It is still not known how the Inca built this monolith with huge stones at the top of the mountains overlooking Cusco in the 15th century over 70 years.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.  Walking through rock tunnels we saw altars hewn out of solid stone.  We were even greeted by lamas walking around the ruin.  When the Spaniards arrived they used most of the building blocks to build their cathedrals and mansions.  But the site is so huge, it remains the most impressive ruin in Peru just by sheer size.  There is a field, five times bigger than any football field, in the center of the ruin, once a year, a pageant plays out in full Inca costume to celebrate the winter solstice.  Perhaps not only the size of the stones but the fact that they were stacked on top of each other to form very high walls and without anything to hold them in place.  It is extraordinary to see just how each stone was cut and placed with hardly a crack between them.

We also visited the ruins of Quenqo and Tambomachay, the later of which features fountains fed by spring water from higher ground.  We walked up on a trail and learned this was going to be the highest site we were to visit.


On the way back to the town itself we visited a true alpaca store.  We learned that many of the craft markets in town said they were selling alpaca but it was likely a polyester or textile mixed with maybe 5% real alpaca.  Hence we learned the difference between prices in the markets and in this store.  The quality was obvious.  Our wives benefited from our helping the Peruvian economy big time with sweaters and a scarf of 100% alpaca wool!

Back in the main Plaza de Armas we were treated to a lot of local school children in their native costumes.  We were not sure what they were celebrating, but it was quite a sight to see all the different little ones in marvelous coloured attire.  The Haukeypata was once the great Inca square and there remain many Spanish colonial buildings and the precisely carved Inca walls.  This is also where the Cusco Cathedral stands, also known as The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin.  It was completed in 1654, almost 100 years in the making.  There are about 400 colonial paintings, including the Last Supper by Marcos Zapata.  It is so interesting to see how the local artists tried to encourage their religion with religious art using local images.  For instance, rather than the familiar Passover meal of lamb, Jesus and his disciples are eating cuy, guinea pig, which was a sacrificial animal in traditional Inca ceremonies.  Using cuy instead of lamb made the scene more meaningful to Peruvian people.  A magnificent structure, our guide made an interesting comment about how local people could not afford to enter the building to pray, because of the price of an entrance ticket, and therefore could only enter during Mass times on Sundays.

Cusco vows with Lima as one of two cities to have on everyone’s list of MUST places to visit while in Peru.  My stay did get interrupted by high altitude sickness and I not only needed oxygen one night at the hotel, but also a ten hour stay on oxygen and an IV in the local private clinic, which turned out to be a ten storey hospital.  The doctor was terrific, spoke English very well, and she looked after me including a room on the top floor, where we had a magnificent view of Cusco.  My buddy, Roy, said we might have had the best view in the city!  During the afternoon the Heavens opened and we saw a real torrential downpour.  This is winter in Cusco and is why some think is why the Inca ruler built Machu Picchu --- to escape the winter rains!  What we saw certainly convinced us it would be better to be out of the weather --- as we watched for the whole afternoon from our tenth floor private room with floor to ceiling windows.  We did have to change our plans and the doctor did not recommend us going on the   next day to Puno.  Instead we returned to Lima (sea level) and had 3 more days enjoying one of the food capitals of the world.  It was an unexpected addition to our days in Lima and we enjoyed it immensely.

Peru is a marvelous country to visit.  This was Roy’s second trip; my first.  The multi culturalism, great fusion food, beautiful sites, archeological ruins, very high Andes mountains, and more make it a great destination. Machu Picchu was at the top of my bucket list, and thanks to Roy for helping me make it there.  Now to figure out what next to take off that list!!!