Originally we planned on taking the Perurail Titikaka train from Puno to Cusco; it takes ten and a half hours and is supposedly one of those train journeys of a lifetime. In fact I was ready to book it, until we saw a YouTube video that someone had taken of their trip, it just looked so darn cheesy and touristy that we decided that US $225 each could be better spent elsewhere.
With one successful bus trip (in Peru) with Cruz Del Sur under our belt we decided to use the bus again to get from Puno to Cusco in the Sacred Valley. After a little research we found something very interesting. One enterprising company Inka Express offers not just a way to get you and your baggage from A to B, you get a tour as well.
For just US $40 you get all the comfort of the Cruz Del Sur buses, plus an English speaking guide and stops at various points of interest along the 10 hour route of The Sun.
Our bus departed at 6.50 am so it was an early start for us, but we settled in and enjoyed a complimentary hot drink. As Puno dropped behind we watched the landscape change from ramshackle buildings covered in political graffiti, to terraced crops, copses of Australian eucalyptus and finally to wide open spaces, populated only by llamas, alpacas and the wild vicuna.
Our first destination was Pucará known to be the first population nucleus in the Titikaka basin around 500 BC – 200AD and although little remains of what was once a major centre, a small museum houses some examples of its sculptures and multi colored ceramics.
After the museum we had a few minutes to do some exploring on our own and came across this amazing church with funky miniature pagoda like structures on its roof domes.
Back onto the bus and we climb further into the mountains, with the landscape becoming ever more barren in sharp contrast to the startling blueness and clarity of the sky. It seemed the higher we climbed the more intense the sky became, it shifted through every shade of blue and into the realm of purple even.
Next up was La Raya which is the dividing point between the Lake Titikaka valley and the start of the Sacred Valley. It literally took our breath away, stunning views of the snow-capped Andes and the thin air at 4,338 meters (14, 229 feet) had us all feeling a little lightheaded and even caused a few headaches (one of the symptoms of altitude sickness). Thankfully it is only a short visit, just long enough to buy wool scarfs and throws from the ever present local ladies selling their wares at every single tourist stop. Freezing and gasping we jumped back on board and we started our descent into the southern end of the Sacred Valley.
Our next stop was Sicuani, surrounded by snow topped peaks this city is large and sprawling and is the intersection of roads connecting Puno, Arequipa & Cusco. It was here we stopped for lunch and an extra 10 SOL bought a great buffet lunch with live music too.
From there we headed to Raqchi at 3225 meters. The most important building within the complex is the ‘Temple of Wiracocha’, which was built by the Inca Wiracocha in honor of their god, Apu Kon Titi Wiracocha. Classified as a ‘Kallanka’ it would have been a tall building covered with straw and wood and it was huge. At 92 meters long and over 25 meters wide it would have a monumental task to build. The most striking feature is the remains of the central wall which dwarfs the remains of the columns which supported the long gone roof and the foundations of the outer wall.
The highlight of the trip was Andahuoylillas. This small seemingly unassuming, brick and adobe church is better known as ‘The Sistine Chapel of America’ and you only see why once you get inside. It glows! Ornate baroque carvings covered with gold leaf dominate the chancel, the ceilings and the upper walls, in sharp contrast to the simple adobe walls below. Taking photographs is forbidden but you can see some here although they do not do it justice.
We arrived in Cusco rested and relaxed around 5.30 pm, reclaimed our luggage and after our friendly guide arranged a taxi for us we checked into our hotel. Tomorrow we would meet our new charge for the next two weeks. Yep we managed to arrange a sit in Peru and were looking after a cat Opita in a very funky little apartment right in the center of this UNESCO heritage city. How cool is that?