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January 28, 2022

Peru's travel treasures: Machu Piccu and more

By CARTER BANKER | November 17, 2011

If you want to see something truly indescribable, go to Machu Picchu in Peru. One of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is an Incan city that remained unknown to the Spanish conquistadors and to outsiders in general until it was "discovered" (I use this term loosely because the local people knew of its existence) by Yale professor Hiram Bingham in 1911.

I recommend hiring a tour guide for the experience. I would bet good money that they make up half of what they say as they go along, but that is part of the fun of Machu Picchu. There are so many nooks and crannies and little rooms that can be whatever you want them to be. The guides will also point out the spots where many gather on certain days of the year when the sun hits a certain place and either illuminates the The Intihuatana stone, described in English as "The Hitching Post of the Sun," (on the southern hemisphere's summer soltice) or casts no shadow at all due to the sun being directly above the stone (the spring and fall equinoxes), hence "hitching" the sun. My guide also had a backpack full of fun things that he would pull out to show us along the way. At one point, he offered us some coca leaves (the plant that they make cocaine from) and we politely declined.

There is a lot to see on your own too. There are llamas and alpacas (to be honest I can't tell the difference between them) that wander the premises and graze freely. There are also lots of walking trails to explore — you can actually hike all the way up to Machu Picchu and camp along the way. The journey takes about three days. There is nothing more incredible than standing at the top of the city and looking down; you feel as if you are on top of the world.

But Machu Picchu isn't the only site to see in Peru, far from it in fact. I visited some lovely villages in the Inca Valley, where I ran into some local kids coming home from school while I was exploring. We came across each other in a small field with a lone cow and a pigsty. We chased each other around for awhile until the little girl climbed over the fence into the pigsty. I chose not to follow; it was during moments like this that I really wish I spoke Spanish.

Most people in Peru are very religious, and I was lucky enough to be there during their Easter celebration. Everyone in the town gathered together in a procession carrying a statue of Jesus. There was lively music and lots of joyful celebrations all around. Unlike in America, Peru does not have an Easter Bunny. I asked the women behind the desk at my hotel about this and she gave me a puzzled look. I explained that the Easter bunny was like Santa Clause, except he was a rabbit. Looking back on it, my explanation probably caused more confusion.

Cuzco, the colonial city, is another beautiful sight to see. It also happens to be 10,800 feet above sea level, so to avoid getting altitude sickness you should end your trip there. When Pizarro arrived in 1534, he built Spanish style buildings on top of Incan ones, and, when you expose the foundation of the buildings, you can still see the Incan structures underneath. Incan building methods are very unique because they didn't use any mortar to stick stones together — they carved them so exactly that they fit together like puzzle pieces. Another interesting aspect of all this is that they were able to carve the stones without bronze tools, leading some people to speculate that the Incan structures were actually created by aliens.

Peru is a great place to go to try new foods. I ate guinea pig and alpaca. Guinea pig tastes just like chicken and alpaca is a dark meat which tasted like a weird steak to me. But as always when you travel, be very careful about the food that you eat because it is very easy to get sick. My Dad got really sick from eating an undercooked hamburger. But as long as you can tell that something has been cooked well, don't be afraid to try it!

If you would like to study in Peru, CIEE offers a program in Lima (the capital) for students of many different majors, from engineering to philosophy, who speak Spanish. And check out http://www.travel-amazing-southamerica.com/ for some tips about traveling through South America. Also look at http://www.studentuniverse.com/travel-guides/travel-like-a-student/destinations/travel-to-south-america for tips and budget options specifically for students.

Have fun, and don't forget to try some guinea pig!

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