The first Spaniards arrived in the city in Nov 1533. Francisco Pizarro named it the "Very noble and great city of Cuzco”. The Spanish destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces, and used the remaining walls as bases for the construction of a new city. It became a beautiful colonial city, filled with European monasteries and cathedrals. As a result, you can expect to see many splendid but diverse styles of architecture, layers of cultures in one town.
Many travellers now spend several days in Cuzco itself, seeing the most important sites eg the Cathedral of Santo Domingo 1654 in the main square. The Cathedral, as well as its official status as a place of worship, has become a major holding site of Cuzco's colonial art and artefacts. UNESCO World Heritage status was granted in 1983.
The Hiram Bingham train, climbing the Andes
Hiram Bingham was the American explorer who revealed the remains of the Inca citadel, Machu Picchu, in July 1911. He had traced Simon Bolivar’s footsteps, including the historic trade routes through Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, funded largely by his wife, an heiress to the Tiffany jewellery fortune.
He and his party hit pay-dirt when they heard in Cuzco that there were extensive ruins high in the mountains nearby. He excitedly wrote that “suddenly I found myself confronted with the walls of ruined houses, built of the finest quality of Inca stonework. The ruins were overgrown but the white granite walls were carefully cut and exquisitely fitted together. The scene fairly took my breath away”.
How does the modern traveller get to Machu Picchu? There is no direct road between Cuzco & Machu Picchu and although there are many ordinary trains, there is only one luxury train: The Hiram Bingham!
The Hiram Bingham departs from Poroy Station (20 minutes outside Cuzco) at 9am. Travellers are greeted with a fun display of traditional dancers and musicians, and Orient Express employees serve champagne. Inside food and drinks are served in the bar car.
The blue and gold carriages are filled with elegant decoration, a la 1920s Pullman trains. Note the polished wood, gleaming cutlery and glittering glass. The train consists of two dining cars, an observation bar car and a kitchen car, and can carry up to 84 passengers.
Machu Picchu ruins in the mist
The scenery is always different, always fascinating. From the agricultural plains of the Sacred Valley, to the crashing waters of the Urubamba river, and the soaring mountains. The Hiram Bingham travels slowly enough to see everything. The train arrives into the tiny town of Aguas Calientes where private minibuses await passengers to escort them on the trip up to the citadel. A guide tells speaks about Inca history.
Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, is one of the most famous examples of Inca architecture and is located 112km from Cuzco, 2,350 ms above sea level. The ruins, probably built in the mid-C15th by the Inca Emperor, are surrounded by lush jungle. The ruins are situated on the eastern slope of Machu Picchu in two separate areas - agricultural and urban. The latter includes the civil sector (dwellings, canals and sophisticated irrigation systems) and the sacred sector (temples, mausoleums, squares and royal houses). The Machu Picchu citadel combines stunning natural scenery with a historic treasure trove, and is now recognised as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of the Emperor who conquered the region. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, it served as a strong-hold for Inca resistance. The region was only abandoned by the Incas some time after the Emperor’s death in 1472. Now it is an important tourist attraction because of its stunning stonework Inca buildings. And as one of the most common starting points for the 3-day, 4-night hike called the Inca Trail. Trains run between Ollantaytambo in The Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu.
The Incas built several storehouses out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo, complete with ventilation systems. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, defended their contents against decay. The guide said they were used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window.
Moray is a small village, c50 km NW from Cuzco, down the road leading to the town of Urubamba. Moray is quiet and a nice way to reach Moray is by Peruvian Paso-style horseback riding. Riders travel across the hilltops above the stunning Sacred Valley backed by the distant snow-capped Andes. Here the Mares salt mines are a great spectacle, worked since pre-Inca times and still in use today.
Hiram Bingham train, dining car
In the evening, The Hiram Bingham leaves Machu Picchu at 6PM. Guests are welcomed back on board with pre-dinner cocktails and music served in the Bar Car. Later a 4-course, à la carte dinner is served in the dining cars. The train returns to Poroy station near Cuzco at 9.30 PM.
My husband did this trip years ago but there have been two changes since. Firstly the hordes of tourists these days cause so much damage that apparently a limit will have to be put on their numbers. Secondly Yale University has signed an agreement that will return to Peru of some 5,000 artefacts taken from Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham and his party. The objects have been in the possession of Yale University’s Peabody Museum for 100 years.