This video shows Machu Picchu, sacred centre of the Inca Empire in Peru and one of the new natural wonders of the world. It begins on the train between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, arriving at the main street in Aguas Calientes, procedes to Machu Picchu, and shows some of the views from high above Machu Picchu perched on top of Huayna Picchu. Finally, the video finishes with a mysterious creature I spotted whilst lost amongst some ruins. It hopped like a rabbit, but looked more like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel.
This video shows the bus journey between Arequipa in Peru and Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
In the video we quickly tour some of the streets of Puno before taking a boat to the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, and Taquile island. Back on dry land, we drive along the shores of the lake to the ancient ruins of Sillustani.
It begins in Colca Canyon, where I go Condor spotting before heading up to Puno (3,800m) on Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world. At Lake Titicaca I visit the floating islands and Taquile island. Following this I get the bus to Cusco, ancient capital of the Inca empire, where I visit some of the Inca ruins around Cusco and within the Sacred Valley of the Incas – including Pisac and Ollantaytambo. I finish the podcast at Machu Picchu, perched precariously on top of Huayna Picchu and feeling highly emotional whilst looking down on the most famous of all ancient Incan ruins.
Having now spent more than six months travelling in Latin America, from Guatemala in Central America down to Peru, and having lived in Thailand for three years prior to this trip, I think I’m fairly well placed to write a quick comparison of the pros and cons of each destination. So here goes!
They’re going to battle it out on the following points:
Safety & personal security
This one is easy, in Thailand you can pretty much wander anywhere you like day or night, with cameras, phones and everything else on display. In Latin America, every city seems to have no-go zones, the bus terminal areas are like the Bronx, you just can’t trust taxi drivers, and something you hear more often than you’d like is “Es muy peligroso”.
This one is hard to judge as there is such a variety in costs across Latin America. Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru are vastly cheaper than Argentina and Chile. That being said, the average local meal in Thailand is about US$1, in Latin America it is probably about US$2. And travel is generally cheaper in Thailand.
Thailand is known as The Land of Smiles which says it all really. The moment you step off the plane in Bangkok, you’re made to feel totally at home with welcoming smiles wherever you go. BUT, and it’s a rather large but, is there a superficiality factor at play here? Are the smiles genuine, or dare I say just a clever ruse to empty your wallet?
There’s no doubt that it’s more a case of “what you see is what you get” in Latin America
Thailand has some unbeatable beaches, some amazing jungle and some interesting mountains. Latin America has smoking volcanoes, 6000 metre Andes peaks, tropical beaches, the Amazon and of course a plentiful supply of picturesque Spanish colonial architecture. Say no more.
Winner: Latin America
Thailand has Sukhothai, and a couple of other ‘ancient centres’ dating back a few hundred years. Latin America has its Spanish colonial heritage, many UNESCO World Heritage towns, and of course it’s dripping in pre-colombian cultures like the mysterious culture of San Augustin in Colombia – an archaeologist’s wet dream.
Winner: Latin America
Chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, chips, beans, chicken, rice, savoury bananas, f**K I’m bored…compared to possibly (along with India) the best and cheapest food on the planet in Thailand.
Music & entertainment
Repetetive Karaoke poop vs. Latin Rhythms, Salsa, Samba, Spanish influenced classical guitar, pan pipes…ahh just listen to the music!
Winner: Latin America
Language – Ease of learning the language
Spanish versus a strange tonal language that sounds like a cross between someone being strangled and animal noises, and is almost impossible to learn to read and write.
Winner: Latin America
How do the people express themselves? Do they get excited? Do they argue, debate, put their true feelings across? Do they kiss their lovers passionately in public? In Thailand, the natural response to anything whatsoever is to smile sweetly, and of course they wear their jeans and long-sleeved tops in the sea which is utterly ridiculous. In Latin America, the blood is hot.
Winner: Latin America
It’s a hard one. Latin America wins more outright points, but the food is stodgy and dull, it’s a bit more expensive and frankly it some places it’s downright dangerous. If you like safe and easy travel, Thailand is your place, but for the shear scale, diversity of landscapes and archaeological sites, and passion of the people, Latin America wins hands down.
Cusco is the historical capital of the Inca empire, and for that reason – along with its proximity to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas – it is without doubt the main city on any tourist’s itinerary of Peru.
Also spelled ‘Cuzco’, ‘Qusqu’ and ‘Qosqo’ (in the local Quechua language), Cusco is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has grown into a thriving tourist destination with about a million tourists a year.
Many people believe the city was planned by the Incas to be the shape of a Puma, with the teeth the battlements at the Sacsayhuaman fortress high above the city.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century, they looted all the gold and silver from the impressive temples in Cusco, and used the stones to build Catholic churches on top of the original Inca structures – including the temple of the sun (Qoricancha).
As Cusco lies at an altitude of about 3,300 metres, it can prove tricky to fly straight into Lima and then up to Cusco. Despite this, lots of people do it, and then head out on their 5 day Inca trail trek to Machu Picchu. Not surprisingly there are casualties! If you’re coming to Cusco, I would suggest you give yourself five days to a week in Cusco before starting your trek, or come by bus from Lima stopping somewhere like Arequipa – which is what we did.
So what’s Cusco really like now? Well, it’s undoubtedly Peru’s biggest tourist trap. The moment you step out of your hotel/hostel you become the target of the Commerciantes in the street – the street sellers – trying to sell you everything from postcards, to ‘indigenous trinkets’, shoe shining sessions, meals in restaurants and tours to Machu Picchu. Your most frequently used Spanish here will be “No gracias”.
There is a slightly more alternative side to Cusco (centred more around the artisans’ neighbourhood of San Blas), which feels more like the scene in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with yoga studios, healing sessions (some involving the San Pedro Cactus and Ayahuasca) and everything else that goes with it. But my honest assessment of Cusco (and this is bound to cause some controversy) would be a very beautiful, historic, but expensive Peruvian version of the Khaosan Road in Bangkok – with the same traveller/tourist colonists. It’s a great to place to meet fellow travellers, but how authentically Peruvian is it?
Where Cusco really comes into its own, rather than hanging out with fellow travellers getting drunk in the Irish pubs, is when one leaves Cusco using it as a base and heads into the Sacred Valley to visit the many Inca ruins and historic sites situated there. The Sacred Valley itself is absolutely breathtaking, and I am sure unequalled in the world.
This is just a quick update…I’ve been in Cusco, Peru for a few days now, and have been trying to organise a trip to Macchu Picchu with Peru Rail who have kindly gone on strike on the day we were hoping to travel to Aguas Calientes. There will be lots more photos coming soon, along with videos and a podcast of Cusco, some incredible surrounding Inca archaeological sites and of course Macchu Picchu.
As the heart of the Inca empire, the magnetic city of Cuzco heads the list of many a traveler’s itinerary and with a very good reason. The city’s unique combination of colonial and religious splendours combined with hundreds of activities offered to travellers makes it a fantastic place to hang around for quite a while. I spent 1.5 months there myself.
The city’s biggest drawcard of all is being the set-off point to the ‘lost’ city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel perched high on an isolated mountaintop.
In Cuzco you can spend your days in colourful markets, doing yoga, meditation, massage, trying out all kinds of amazing restaurants, water rafting trips, museums, excursions to Inca sites, bars, parties, and many other things.