Peru: Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Colca Canyon

Jan 15, 2018 View Comments by

Peru Machu Picchu


Cusco – the Tourism Capital

The ride toward Cusco cuts through an open valley with farms and green trees surrounded by high mountains. Cusco, which means navel of the earth, is Peru’s tourism center and was once the capital of the Incas. We spend two days taking in the sights and taking advantage of the vibrant nightlife.


Peru Machu Picchu


The Plaza de Armas features a beautiful fountain and is rimmed by shops and two grand Spanish churches. It’s also home to the Stone of Twelve Angles. When the Spanish conquered Cusco in 1533, they destroyed much of the old Inca kingdom; however, they couldn’t bring down the famous 12-sided stone, which was built like a puzzle without any mortar and still stands tall today.  Architectural styles abound throughout Cusco, ranging from Incan, to Spanish, to Peruvian. But sightseeing is not easy in a city at an altitude of 10,800 feet (3,300 meters), so with small steps, we take things slowly. The view, after all, is breathtaking.


Peru Machu Picchu


Sacred Valley

We visit the Inca site at Moray, the renouned crator-like, agricultural terraces built in concentric circles with a sophisticated irrigation system. Moray is located 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) above sea level, where it’s difficult to grow crops. But the Incas were extremely innovative and they experimented with different altitudes and light intensities. Temperature differences between the lowest and the highest levels (which is about 328 feet (100 meters)) can be up to 59 ºF (15 ºC). The Incas realized that they could grow crops at the bottom and with each new seed could grow at the next higher terrace. They worked their way up until crops were strong enough to grow at an altitude of 10,800 feet!

Nearby, Peruvians still use salt pods to collect salt. A complex system of channels and streams directs the water from a mountain spring rich in salt through hundreds of mini pools. The water evaporates and leaves the salt behind. It’s intense physical labor, yet the people still carry the 175-lb (80 kg) bags on their backs.


Peru Machu Picchu


Condors at Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon is one of the only places to see condors in their natural habitat so we ride on a dead-end gravel road to a lookout point. Condors are the largest flying bird in the world, with a wingspan close to 10 feet (3 meters), and they use thermals to reach higher skies and high speeds. This canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, but it’s not as easy to see in its entirety. The road to get there is challenging when you mix in gravel, sand, large rocks, and a quarter-of-a-mile tunnel (400 meters) with no lights and a right curve.

A bus passes by, but we don’t want to follow it because dust whirls up in its path. We pull over and gaze upon more terraces and farmland. In the tunnel, I quickly realize that it’s still too dusty and with nobody in front of me to follow, I can’t see anything. My little low-beam light shines on the ground, a weak foe against the total darkness.  Somehow I manage to make out tire tracks in the gravel. I put my trust in that tread and hope not to discover that the driver smacked a wall.  When we finally reach the lookout, our efforts are rewarded after an hour-and-a-half wait: we see two condors in flight, although they are still very far away.

Parting Thoughts

Visiting so many archeological sites and histories and vast differences in terrain isn’t easy to do in just 13 days, but the Machu Picchu Express Tour accomplishes it. The many UNESCO World Heritage sites, seemingly endless desert dunes, and the steep slopes of the Andes Mountains were the initial draw – but what we discovered was such an amazing experience of people, place, and culture, made all the more magical by traveling on bikes. RoadRUNNER would like to share this experience with you through an organized tour to Peru! For more information, email us.


Peru, Machu Picchu


For information on our tours or to register, call (336) 306-5282 or visit


Photography: Florian Neuhauser and Christa Neuhauser

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