Advice for visiting Inca ruins: Combine Moray and Maras (and add a hike)

We hired a taxi to transport us for the day. What would be an unthinkable expense in many countries cost only $17/each, since we shared the expense with our cousins, Susie and Tom. Our driver dropped us at our first stop, the Inca ruin, Moray.

We’d had time to read up about Moray before our visit. Otherwise we never would have understood what was laid out before us: most likely an Inca agricultural research station at 3,444 meters (11,300’).

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The circular terraces provided varying conditions for sun, wind, water, and temperature. The depth from the top to the bottom terrace was 30 m (98’), with a difference in air temperature of up to 6.6 degrees C (20 degrees F).

The Inca Empire extended out over a huge geographic range, and they strived to master agriculture in all areas.   Pollen studies of the area indicate that the Inca brought soil from different areas as fill to test how the large variety of vegetables did in different soil conditions.

After exploring Moray, we started our hike to the old town of Maras, where our taxi driver would be waiting for us at the town square

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As we left the Inca ruin at Moray, we could see the land is still used for agriculture.  We passed fields being cultivated and saw women and children keeping watch over their farm animals.

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The scenery on this hike through the high Andes rivaled our strolls through Tuscany.

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Our walk eventually brought us to the town of Maras, where almost every door in the old town had decoration from the colonial era on the door lintel.

Our taxi driver was waiting for us in the main square, just as planned. He drove us to the nearby Maras salt pans, one of the most amazing sites to photograph!

The salt pans have been in use since before the Incas came to power. Each local family can ask for their own salt pool. At some distance we watched one family raking their pool.

The salt pans have been in use since before the Incas came to power. Each local family can ask for their own salt pool. At some distance we watched one family raking their pool.

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Salt is piled up and some sold at shops near the entrance. The salt color varies from white to tan to reddish.

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As we walked along the pools, we thought the white, saline crust looked like newly fallen snow.

The visits to Moray and Maras, with a stunning hike in between, seemed a perfect way to spend a day in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

 

 

August 2016

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Advice for visiting Inca ruins: Bring a good map on your hike to Pumamarca

Sometimes we can sense problems appearing on the horizon. So it went with our hike to the Pumamarca ruins, but don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.

We’d read that the hike to Pumamarca and back to Ollantaytambo offered splendid views as well as a chance to see some Inca ruins. The directions seemed a little sketchy to us. We agreed with our cousins to take a taxi up to a point on the road close to the ruins, allowing us time to explore before starting the long scenic hike back downhill.

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At 10am the taxi climbed up the mountain on the narrow road and then came to a halt. Roadwork. We passengers climbed out to increase ground clearance, and the taxi just made it through, only to come to another point where we had to climb out again.

Our wonderful driver actually managed to finally get us to the drop off point. He got out of the car and waved his arm in the direction we should walk. Gracias! Off and up we headed. After a steep climb, a long stonewall appeared. Structures were inside with a closed gate. The property seemed well maintained so we continued our search for the Inca ruins. How were we to know this was Pumamarca or that we should just open the closed gate?

We had bushwacked for some time around the perimeter, and, when we saw what must be Pumamarca, we entered from the rear of the ruins only to be met by a llama (who must have seen all of this happen before).

We had bushwacked for some time around the perimeter, and, when we saw what must be Pumamarca, we entered from the rear of the ruins only to be met by a llama (who must have seen all of this happen before).

Pumamarca’s purpose, overlooking valleys and with an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, was probably a defensive stronghold for the Inca site at Ollantaytambo.

Pumamarca’s purpose, overlooking valleys and with an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, was probably a defensive stronghold for the Inca site at Ollantaytambo.

The design and architecture clearly are Inca, but we couldn’t tell how much had been done to the buildings in the years since.

The design and architecture clearly are Inca, but we couldn’t tell how much had been done to the buildings in the years since.

When it was time to start back, we studied the trail map on map.me, our first time using the app.  We were puzzled. We started off in the right direction but were going through tall weeds, then farmer’s empty fields. Clearly we needed a little experience using this app! After 45 frustrating minutes (which seemed a lot longer) we figured out, and the map confirmed, we WERE on the right trail.

Now we could enjoy the views, the flowers, even the thorns, which was now no statement on how the hike was going.

Now we could enjoy the views, the flowers, even the thorns, which was now no statement on how the hike was going.

We periodically checked the map when we wanted to be sure we were still going in the right direction. Did the path continue for some way down a creek bed? Map.me showed it did.

After a few hours walking, we came upon one of the highest Inca terraces we’d yet seen.

After a few hours walking, we came upon one of the highest Inca terraces we’d yet seen.

By 4pm we arrived back in Ollantaytambo, happy for the beautiful hike and the chance to see the ruins (but maybe a little wiser about having a good map on hand that we knew how to use).

 

July 2016

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Advice for visiting Inca ruins: Bring along a great guidebook to Ollantaytambo

After two full days at Machu Picchu, we took the train to Ollantaytambo (often called “Ollanta”). We had read advice (somewhere?) to pick up a good guidebook since the information in it was what the guides would tell us anyway. How did we get into the archaeological site and only THEN remember that we should have purchased the guidebook? Well, too late now.

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Off we went to climb up the many stairs – determined to see what we could and to find out later just what we had seen. For the most part, the huge crowds were way ahead or way behind us.

We read later that all Inca terraces are not used in the same way. The terraces on the religious Temple hillside were so massive they were called the Fortress.

We read later that all Inca terraces are not used in the same way. The terraces on the religious Temple hillside were so massive they were called the Fortress.

We spotted terraces on many nearby mountainsides.   Why, we wondered? We later read that these were carefully placed to take advantage of different microclimates for agriculture.

Some areas, even after research later, remain mysteries to us as to their use.

Some areas, even after research later, remain mysteries to us as to their use.

Cousins Susie and Tom descending one of the grand staircases from possibly the Funerary section of the Temple section.

Cousins Susie and Tom descending one of the grand staircases from possibly the Funerary section of the Temple section.

Perhaps the easiest area to explore was at the base of Temple Hill where a small canal flows. The bath area was easy to identify and reminded us of a bathhouse we’d seen in Ephesus, Greece.

Nearby, the impressive Templo de Agua, with water still flowing.

Nearby, the impressive Templo de Agua, with water still flowing.

Any notion that all Inca building blocks are perfectly rectangular was dashed when we saw this large stone with a notch.

Any notion that all Inca building blocks are perfectly rectangular was dashed when we saw this large stone with a notch.

The Incas developed the site in the late 15th century. Ollantaytambo was not yet finished when the Spanish unsuccessfully assaulted it in 1536 and lost partly because the Inca were able to flood the plain. A year later, Manu Inka moved to the safer area of Vilcabamba, and, within a few years, the Spaniards took over Ollantaytambo.

Without a good guidebook to consult while we visited the site, we did our explorations that day and later. Using good wifi and more time, we “revisted” the site and started to piece together all that we’d seen. Needless to say, it would have been easier with the guidebook in hand!

 

July 2016

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Advice for visiting Inca ruins: Timing is key at Machu Picchu

We’ve been planning a trip — on-and-off — to Machu Picchu for over 20 years. We researched and discussed details with our travel friends, but we had other trips we wanted to take first, and it kept getting pushed forward. Now it was really going to happen.

We pulled out all the research and advice we had gotten from others and set out to plan what we hoped would be the perfect trip to the Inca ruins for ourselves. The research for planning a visit to the most important ruin, Machu Picchu, had a unified theme: timing. Timing when to buy the tickets and train reservations (early), timing as to season (not rainy), timing to enter the site (very early).

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We followed the prescribed advice to go in the dry season and were rewarded with sunny skies and perfect weather.

A trip to Peru in the wet season would have been less expensive, but the thought of trudging around Machu Picchu in a cold rain was enough to convince us that this was not the option for us.

We realized in our planning that visiting Machu Picchu over two days would be better than one day.   For those of us who monitor carefully our travel dollars, this was quite a leap. We reasoned that Machu Picchu is on everyone’s list of top sites to see in the world and trying to race through in one day just wasn’t sufficient.

Did we follow all the advice we read? No, and here’s where we differed. The first day, we took the very early train from Cusco (actually the Poroy station which is 20 minutes away) to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes) and checked into our hotel. By the time we left the hotel to make our way up to the ruins, it was after noon. At that hour, it only took a few minutes to get the bus tickets and catch the shuttle. With each passing hour at Machu Picchu, the number of visitors dropped. By 4pm we headed back on the shuttle bus to our hotel, exhausted and happy with all that we had seen.

Taking photos without people in them proved easier than we had expected in the afternoon.

Taking photos without other tourists in them proved easier than we had expected in the afternoon.

On day 2, we slept in, had an early lunch in Aguas Calientes, and entered Machu Picchu at 1:30pm.

We hiked up step after step for an hour to the Sun Gate, only to discover many tourists sitting on the walls, windows, and even blocking the stairs to get in – just what we had hoped to avoid.

We hiked up step after step for an hour to the Sun Gate, only to discover many tourists sitting on the walls, windows, and even blocking the stairs to get in – just what we had hoped to avoid.

We quickly left the Sun Gate and headed back down to the main complex to explore an area we’d missed the day before.

And, as the sun dropped in the sky, so did the number of visitors.  

And, as the sun dropped in the sky, so did the number of visitors.

The weather was perfect in mid-afternoon, and we could more easily take photos of the Temple of the Condor.

The weather was perfect in mid-afternoon, and we could more easily take photos of the Temple of the Condor.

We explored freely with few others around. It was exactly what we’d hoped for. We stayed until 4:30pm, shortly before closing time.

So, our advice is to plan your schedule at Machu Picchu based on 1. What you plan to see and do. Clearly, a hike requiring timed entry or of a long duration makes sense to do in the morning.

Our goal was to see as many details as possible, like the 12 angle stone construction with no mortar. We also wanted to take lots of photos.

Our goal was to see as many details as possible, like the 12 angle stone construction with no mortar. We also wanted to take lots of photos.

Plan your schedule based on 2. How long you want to be at the site. We know that our energy (and enthusiasm) wane after 3 or 4 hours. Instead of an early visit to the site from 7am – 11am, we thought a visit from noon till 4pm made more sense for us.

Preparation was helpful, but timing turned out to be key.

 

July 2016

 

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The only way to get around: a motorized canoe

On the second day of our trip to Manu National Park we left the dirt roads and got into a motorized canoe with 2 boatmen to guide us down the rivers.

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Our days often started before dawn. Aurelio perched in the front and gave directional signals to our driver, Jose.

When our canoe made a stop, we balanced on a wooden plank to get off. Fortunately, one of the crew was always there to give us a hand.

When our canoe made a stop, we balanced on a wooden plank to get off. Fortunately, one of the crew was always there to give us a hand.

The rivers appeared challenging to navigate: shallow water in the dry season, tree branches caught in the rocks, fast-moving channels. One day, against a powerful current, Aurelio took out a saw, balanced himself on a tree branch in the river, and sawed off a branch that blocked our passage. We held our breaths until he was finished and back in the canoe.

The rivers appeared challenging to navigate: shallow water in the dry season, tree branches caught in the rocks, fast-moving channels. One day, against a powerful current, Aurelio took out a saw, balanced himself on a tree branch in the river, and sawed off a branch that blocked our passage. We held our breaths until he was finished and back in the canoe.

We spent our time in the canoe watching wildlife and birds.

We spent our time in the canoe watching wildlife and birds – and taking photos.

On the days when we started before dawn, there wasn’t the visibility to see anything. On those days we took photos of the sunrise.

On the days when we started before dawn, there wasn’t the visibility to see anything. On those days we took watched the sun rise.

Our last day, we took a 2-hour boat trip south on the Manu River and then southwest down the Madre de Dios River to the tiny town of Boca Colorado.

Our last day, we took a 2-hour boat trip south on the Manu River and then southwest down the Madre de Dios River to the tiny town of Boca Colorado.

Boca Colorado is well outside the park and a transportation hub since this is where the river meets the nearest road.

Boca Colorado is well outside the park and a transportation hub since this is where the river meets the nearest road.

Taxis pulled onto the beach to take us by road to Puerto Carlos, where we hopped on a short ferry to cross the Inambari River, and then took another taxi to Puerto Maldonado’s airport for the flight back to Cusco. Total travel time this day: 9 hours.

We had spent long stretches of time over 7 days in the canoe. We saw caimans floating in the river water and stretched out on the beach; we saw monkeys dangling from the trees on shore; we saw so many species of birds and so often, that we could identify most by week’s end. We ate on the canoe, we napped, and my cousin even dried her still-damp pants in the fast-moving air.

We usually thought of small boats as pleasure craft. The notion of canoes as serious transport was a new experience for us.

 

July 2016

Note: Before our visit to Peru, we did lots of research and chose Manu Expeditions’ 9-day “THE COMPLETE MANU BIOSPHERE RESERVE EXPERIENCE.”

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We weren’t prepared for this

We climbed to the top of the 35 m. (115’) high observation tower to have a vista of the tree canopy outside Manu National Park in Peru.

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Beth was terrified at what appeared to her to be the substandard construction of the tower that we all had just climbed. So it goes when we travel to far-away places.

A few days earlier we had spent considerable time at Cocha Salavador observing a family of threatened giant river otters. Danny, our guide, had told us that, when young males reached a certain age, they were forced to leave the family and set out on their own to establish a new family at a new lake.

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So, when out boatmen saw a young male otter draped over a branch on the Manu River they were startled.

Giant otters are not seen in the Manu River, only in lakes, and this young male giant otter, who had recently been expelled from the lake to start life on his own, appeared to have been wounded. The crew knew this otter as a member of the family that we had been observing the day before, and it made them very sad to see him struggling.

One of the most unexpected sightings on the trip was a rare appearance by “Vanessa” at the Manu Adventure Center.

After dinner one night, a tapir appeared outside the kitchen door.   The tapir, named “Vanessa” by the staff, is about 17 years old. She can be gone for months at a time but then appears at the kitchen door for a “hand-out” of vegetables.

After dinner one night, a tapir appeared outside the kitchen door.   The tapir, named “Vanessa” by the staff, is about 17 years old. She can be gone for months at a time but then appears at the kitchen door for a “hand-out” of vegetables.

We think that one of the highpoints of our trip was an early morning, peaceful raft trip on Blanco Lake.

IMG_1787Our cousins, Susie and Tom, and sat on chairs as we quietly drifted across the lake. We saw more birds than we ever thought possible.

One of our favorite birds of the trip, a hoatzin, had been perched on a low branch above the water, but, when the raft drifted near, it clumsily took flight.

One of our favorite birds of the trip, a hoatzin, had been perched on a low branch above the water, but, when the raft drifted near, it clumsily took flight.

Hoatzins are one of the strangest birds we’ve ever observed. The young have claws on their wings. They’re the only birds in the world that eat only leaves and have bovine-type stomachs. Hoatzins are certainly unique in the bird world. According to an article in “Audubon”, they branched off the “avian tree about 65 million years ago and are the only species in the group today.” They’re only found on lakes in the Amazon and Orinoco Delta region of South America.

We weren’t prepared for all that we saw in the Manu Park area. We love seeing new birds and animals, and then reading the interesting stories about them afterwards made what we had seen in the wild all the more fascinating.

 

July 2016

Note: Before our visit to Peru, we did lots of research and chose Manu Expeditions’ 9-day “THE COMPLETE MANU BIOSPHERE RESERVE EXPERIENCE.”   

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A long vigil at the clay lick

We didn’t travel all the way to Peru’s remote Manu National Park area to miss visiting a clay lick. Even though parrots and macaws are found in other places around the world, it is only in the Amazon Basin where they come to the licks to eat clay – and sometimes in great numbers.

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We took the motorized canoe upriver at dawn and then hiked the short distance to the Blanquillo clay lick. (Photo taken at 6:40AM.)

We had a wonderful buffet “picnic” breakfast on the observation platform while we waited – and then waited some more.

What comfort in this jungle setting! A large open pavilion with seating faced a clay bank rising up from the river.

What comfort in this jungle setting! A large open pavilion with seating faced a clay bank rising up from the river.

Our guide and boat driver, Danny and Jose, waited and watched. Birds started to gather, but stayed high in the trees.

Our guide and boat driver, Danny and Jose, waited and watched. Birds started to gather, but stayed high in the trees.

Cousin Tom monitored the gathering birds in hour three of our wait.

Cousin Tom monitored the gathering birds in hour three of our wait.

Why would the birds gather high in the trees and not fly down to the clay lick? Danny explained they sensed danger. While we waited, we spotted other birds from our observation point – smooth-billed ani, chestnut-eared aracari, lineated woodpecker, red-capped cardinals, and more.

As the 4th hour of waiting approached, red and green macaws moved lower in the trees. We thought that any minute they would swoop down to the clay, but still, they were tentative.

As the 4th hour of waiting approached, red and green macaws moved lower in the trees.

We thought that any minute they would swoop down to the clay, but still, they were tentative.

Success after 5 ½ hours of waiting! One flew down and within seconds, all moved down to the lick. The red and green macaws gathered clay and then flew higher up in the trees to eat the clay.

Success after 5 ½ hours of waiting! One flew down and within seconds, all moved down to the lick. The red and green macaws gathered clay and then flew higher up in the trees to eat it.

Why do parrots and macaws eat clay in Peru and nowhere else? The latest studies suggest it’s due to a sodium-poor diet.

It was a long vigil, but we all celebrated a successful outing to Blanquillo clay lick. After all – for us – it was a once-in-a-lifetime show.

 

July 2016

Note: Before our visit to Peru, we did lots of research and chose Manu Expeditions’ 9-day “THE COMPLETE MANU BIOSPHERE RESERVE EXPERIENCE.”   http://www.ManuExpeditions.com

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