Monthly Archives: April 2013

Cusco and Machu Picchu – the Imperial Center of the Incas

Cusco, Cuzco, Qosqo

Cusco is the gateway city for those visiting Machu Picchu. The city is the most important tourist destination in Peru. Cusco is located in southeastern Peru at an elevation of around 3400 meters. It is reached by a short flight from Lima. Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The new settlers destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces and used the remaining walls and stones as bases for the construction of the new city. This historic city has a spiritual aura about itself and is worth exploring for a couple of full days.

It is important to take it easy at first when you arrive here. You must give your body time to acclimate to the altitude and the lack of oxygen. It is advised to drink lots of water, avoid alcoholic drinks and heavy meals. Hotels and restaurants will offer you some Coca tea. It is good for you and will help you fight any Soroche (altitude sickness). Raw Coca leaves, chewed or consumed as tea, are rich in nutritional properties and have many traditional medical uses in the Andes. Coca also plays a vital role in the religious vision of the Andean peoples. Chewing the leaves or drinking Coca tea does not produce the same effects that people experience with cocaine. I took a flight to Cusco from Arequipa where I had a chance to acclimate for several days at a lower elevation of about 2,335 meters. In addition to visiting Machu Picchu, I would recommend signing up for a day tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. That day trip will take you to some other towns suchs as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It will give you a well rounded perspective of life in the Andes.

cusco plaza center inca universe

The center of the Inca universe – the Plaza in Cusco

Sacsahuayman – Inca engineering at its finest

The Sacsahuayman ruins sit on a hill above the city of Cusco at an altitude of 3701 meters. The complex is believed to have played a religious as well as a military role. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. The interlocking stones and the way the walls lean inward, have helped the ruins survive earthquakes in Cusco. The Spanish settlers used Sacsayhuaman as a source of stones for building the new city. The site was destroyed block-by-block to build new government and religious buildings in the city. Only the largest stones that were too difficult to move remain. Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1985. Today, Cusqueños celebrate Inti Raymi, the annual Inca festival of the winter solstice in the month of June.

sacsahuayman ruins cusco inca stonework

Sacsahuayman ruins – represent some of the finest stone work by the Incas

Machu Picchu – the Lost City of the Incas

The Perurail Vistadome train is the most convenient way to reach Machu Picchu. The train cars have large glass panoramic windows which offer amazing scenic views. The train ride crosses the Sacred Valley and sometimes runs parallel to the Urubamba river. You will be able to see the Nevado de Salkantay which is one of the highest peaks in the region with elevation of 6,271 meters. You will need to make the train reservations online and pick up the tickets in person in Cusco. You can find more information here PeruRail.

machu picchu huayna picchu peru industrial complex

View of Machu Picchu late in the day

Machu Picchu sits on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. The ruins are located 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco. The purpose of the complex has been researched extensively. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor around the year 1450. Machu Picchu was unknown to the outside world before being announced in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. The ruins were known locally before then and many others have come forward claiming to have discovered the city first. In 2007 Machu Picchu was designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The site suffers from the pressures of too many tourists. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its List of World Heritage in Danger.

machu picchu huayna picchu peru

Machu Picchu sitting on top of the Andes with a view of Huayna Picchu

Venice, Italy – La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia

A few tips to make your visit to Venice more enjoyable

The Republic of Venice relied on its economic and trading power to achieve great status from the late 7th century until the end of the 18th century. Often referred to as La Serenissima, it was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice. These days, I would not exactly call it Serene. The problem is that lots of tourists will pack the streets and place incredible demands on restaurants and services. A little planning will make your visit to this busy destination more enjoyable. Leave the stress behind with a few tips.

Many visitors stay in the mainland and arrive only for day trips. Walking around Venice at night is something special. Stay in the city so you can explore Piazza San Marco and the bridges at night. The Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia has lockers. Take advantage of this and plan to leave behind anything that you will not need for your stay in Venice. This will lighten your load so you can move around easily. I always carry my camera equipment in a backpack so even after leaving stuff in the lockers, I was still pulling my rolling luggage. If that is the case, you will be better off spending the money to take a water taxi that will drop you off very near your hotel if not right at your hotel’s waterfront door. I did not take the right vaporetto or I missed my stop and ended one stop away from my intended destination. I was forced to push my way thru the crowds and up stairs with my rolling luggage in order to arrive at my hotel. This would have been a lot easier with just a backpack.

Obtaining a good map and keeping track of the available light is essential so that you are able to plan a few days of good photo opportunities. I will never forget my first impression when I arrived and walked out of the Santa Lucia train station. It was late afternoon and the sunlight was behind making all those buildings across the Grand Canal glow in red and gold. I regret not taking that shot. I was carrying my luggage and my priority was to find the right vaporetto to transfer into my hotel. I was not about to take out my camera and tripod and set up for a shot in such a busy spot. I should have returned to this location during a late afternoon while I was staying in Venice but I never did. I guess that I must return to this beautiful city. Here are some images captured during my visit a few years ago.

San Giorgio Maggiore Piazza San Marco Venice Venezia

View of San Giorgio Maggiore from the Piazza San Marco

San Giorgio Maggiore is an island located east and south of Piazza San Marco out in the bay. Photograph it early in the morning before the thousands of tourists arrive at Piazza San Marco for the day. San Giorgio Maggiore also has a convenient vaporetto stop right in front of the church. If you want to escape from the crowds, you may want to explore this small island and church which appear to be less crowded. For more information on water transportation check the Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano website at ACTV. Not only can you obtain information about services and routes but the website also warns users of upcoming strikes. Always plan your train and public transportation around these strikes. Also consider a visit to the island of Murano or Burano – make it a day trip out there. The glass factories always offer free demonstrations.

Small garden off the Grand Canal in Venice.

Not much room for a garden in Venice.

These beautiful apartments next to the Grand Canal enjoy an attached garden which is a rare find in Venice. Barely seen in the image above, the palazzo in the background around the curve in the canal, is the Ca’ Rezzonico. It is one of the finest museums in Venice.

Gondola adornments add to the cost of building these boats.

Elegant details of a gondola add to the cost of finishing these boats.

Many different woods are used to build the boats. Stylish ornaments also contribute to the expense of building a gondola. The ornament on the front of the boat is called the Ferro.

Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti

A beautiful Palazzo houses the Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti

The Institute holds many lectures and exhibitions. I am always looking for a good photography exhibition.

Busy bridge at Campo San Moise

View of Ponte San Moise – can you count the number of photographers on the bridge?

Campo San Moise is not far from Piazza San Marco. A gondola station is located in the canal between two hotels. This gondola station was one of the busiest ones I saw.

Grand Canal from the the Rialto Bridge

View of the Grand Canal from the the Rialto Bridge. Another busy crossing with Gondola, Vaporetto, and water taxis converging in one point.

La Fortuna waterfall – Costa Rica

Near the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall seen thru the dense jungle greenery.
The waterfall is located just outside the town of La Fortuna in Costa Rica.
Water plummets around 65 meters into an emerald pool below.
After a short but very slippery hike down the muddy hillside, you can go for a swim.
Swimming is encouraged and you can get quite close to the waterfall.


A slippery trail leads to the bottom of the La Fortuna waterfall

A slippery trail leads to the bottom of the waterfall