Inca Trail Trekking Map

20 Apr

In 2013 Alpaca Expeditions had a trekker on the Classic Inca Trail Trek named Rusty Rayner. Rusty has a website development and graphic design company in based in Rockledge, Florida in the USA. Rusty had traveled to over 30 countries prior to his trip to Peru, but he felt that his Inca Trail trek was one of the most memorable adventures he had ever experienced.

When he returned back home, he became fascinated by researching the old Inca Trail maps. With his talents and abilities, he decided to create a customized map of the Classic Inca Trail he had just trekked. This stylized map was designed to look old, hand-drawn and heavily worn, as if it accompanied Hiram Bingham when he first rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911.

itm_the_rusty_pixel_sampleInitially the map was intended only as a personal custom photobook of his trek, but Rusty shared it with us at Alpaca Expeditions and we loved it! One of our pet projects at Alpaca is our Social Programs to benefit the families of the men who act as our porters on the Inca Trail. These men are subsistence farmers back in their villages and are supplementing their meager incomes in agriculture, in hopes of offering their children a better education and their families a little better lifestyle.

We suggested to Rusty that he consider sharing his maps with our other clients by offering the maps for sale.  He agreed to donate 10% of the profits to our Social Program to help the families of the porters who made his Inca Trail trek possible in the first place! Having been on the trek with Alpaca, Rusty knew just how hard the porters worked and their importance to the overall experience and enjoyment of the trip. So he agreed and this website is the result of this partnership.

alpaca_expeditions_inca-trail01bIf you are interested in owning one of these beautiful maps, please go to Rusty’s website at The map highlights not only the route taken during your trek but the important ruins, camp sites, and passes encountered along this ancient path, known to the Inca as the Qhapaq Ñan, to Machu Picchu. An altitude and elevation chart shows the various peaks and passes during the trek. You can also customize your map by adding your trekking dates, name or whatever you would like.  It will likely become a conversation piece for friends and family and one of your most cherished works of art.

Hiking the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will remember and treasure for years to come. This unique map makes the perfect souvenir that you can proudly display anywhere. We hope you enjoy this Classic Inca Trail map for many years to come!

Calendar of Festivities in Cusco

8 Apr

By Lisa McClendon Sims

One thing that Peruvians are really good at is celebrating! There are a dizzying number of festivities which combine the rituals of the predominantly Catholic population with colorful indigenous earth-based festivals, frequently interwoven throughout the symbology and celebrations and offer an absolute sensory symphony. Peruvians have roots which deeply connect them with their “Pachamama” (Mother Earth). So much of Peru is based on an agrarian culture, insuring good harvests and fertility of their herds is of paramount importance. The majority of the celebrations are joyous in nature and strengthen social bonds and hope for the future.

Aside from “Saint’s Days” which happen daily all over Peru, announced by the blasting of firecrackers in the early hours of the morning and frequently by parading a statue of the Patron Saint of the Day through the streets often followed by a brass band, there are many other festivals and holidays to navigate. It is estimated that there are as many as 3,000 folk festivals throughout the year in various parts of Peru, hundreds of which are celebrated in Cusco. So many opportunities to feast and dance!

Here are a few of the more popular ones based in Cusco:

CARNIVAL – Variable days in February – starts 40 days before Easter Sunday

One of the largest festivals in South America, made famous by the parades in Rio, Carnival is celebrated a bit differently in Peru. The biggest show is in Puno (an 8-hour bus ride south of Cusco) with dazzling costume competitions and parades honoring The Virgin of Candelaria, where they play music and dance in the streets until they quite literally drop! In Cusco, Carnival is celebrated more with water. If you are in the plazas, expect to get drenched with water blasters and balloons, and sprayed with silly string and foam. No one is immune, but if you are armed with any of the afore-mentioned items, you are considered fair game! Join in the fun – and bring a change of clothes!

SEMANA SANTA (Holy Week/Easter Week) all of Peru but most notably in Cusco and Ayacucho

This is the week before Easter, and in Cusco starts on Monday with “Señor de los Temblores” or Lord of the Earthquakes – also known in Cusco as The Black Christ.  In 1650 there was a terrible earthquake in Cusco with much damage and many aftershocks. Particularly interesting is this holiday’s fusion of Catholic and Inca beliefs. The Black Christ is housed inside of the Cusco Cathedral, built upon the ancient Inca foundations of the Wiracocha Temple (Wiracocha is the Inca Creator God). In 1650 the Black Christ statue was carried in procession through the streets, just as the Incas used to parade the mummies of their Incas and high priests before the Spanish outlawed this custom, and miraculously the earthquakes stopped. So many candles were burnt beneath the statue in gratitude that it is now permanently blackened. Today The Lord of the Earthquakes is still paraded through the streets while the onlookers throw bright red ñucchu flowers (salvia esplendes), as they did in ancient times as an offering to their Pre-Colombian god, Wiracocha, now symbolizing the blood of Christ. The Main Plaza in Cusco is jam-packed with people during Monday evening with barely room to move! Peruvians love to celebrate!


In many cultures has traditional fasting as a ritual. In their truly festive style, the Peruvian people FEAST instead of fast! Good Friday is actually the most celebrated day in Semana Santa, much moreso than Easter Sunday. Most businesses are closed and the Peruvians are all at home with their families feasting upon their Doce Platos – 12 special traditional dishes (excluding red meats) representing the Twelve Apostles!

Q’OYLLURIT’I – The Snow Star Festival – coincides with the full moon at the end of May/beginning of June

The ancient Inca used the Southern Cross constellation, visible in the Southern Hemisphere, as a guide as to when to sow and reap their crops. In April, this constellation disappears under the horizon, and to the Inca this symbolized a time of chaos. With the full moon in May/June, the Southern Cross constellation reappears on the horizon and the Q’oyllurit’i festival was originally in honor of this, bringing order again to their world. However, in 1780 a miraculous image of Christ appeared on a huge rock in the Sinakara Valley (15-16,000 feet above sea level) where the festival is held. The rock has since been embellished and had a church built around it. Christ is now considered by many to be the “Lord of Q’oyllurit’i”, and this celebration is considered to be the largest pilgrimage of indigenous nations in the Americas, with tens of thousands of people (many estimate 70,000) making the pilgrimage during the 4 days that it takes place 8 kilometers outside of the town of Mawayani, at the foot of Ausangate Mountain (21,000 feet elevation). There is a fascinating ritual held by “ukukus” – the Quechua word for “bear”. He is a mythological creature deemed to be fathered by a bear and mothered by a human. The people who want to become Ukukus must climb the High Andes mountain to the glacier and survive the night to earn the right to be an Ukuku. They then wear special costumes and masks and are the policing body of this festival, using whips to call into line anyone who is seen to be acting in a disrespectful manner. Historically they cut blocks of ice from the glacier to bring back to Cusco, which when melted was used as holy water. There are virtually no facilities in this valley, so it is a camping event. There is non-stop dancing, music and firecrackers for the 4 days that this takes place – bring earplugs if you intend to sleep!

CORPUS CHRISTI – Body of Christ – 60 days after Easter Sunday

This festival has been celebrated all over Peru since Colonial times, but reaches its peak in Cusco. It takes place 60 days after Easter Sunday. The ornately dressed statues of 15 saints and virgins are all brought from their respective churches in Cusco and paraded around the Main Plaza. They enter the Cathedral one by one to spend the night in the Cathedral to greet the Body of Christ, embodied in the Sacred Host which is housed in an enormous gold goblet. The processions and the excitement and fervor of the citizens are an amazing show.

INTI RAYMI – The Celebration of the Winter Solstice – June 24th

Inti Raymi is the second largest festival in South America (after Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). It is the celebration of the winter days starting to become longer – the solar new year. In Cusco the celebrations begin on June 1st (no kidding – they celebrate ALL MONTH) with various dances in the plazas, art festivals and an endless list of performances and events. This is considered to be the most important expression of folklore in Cusco. The Spanish outlawed this celebration due to its “pagan” identifications and it was lost for 100s of years. In 1944 a group of scholars and artists in Cusco got together and it was decided to reintroduce it based on the historical record.  The peak of this weeks-long festival starts at 8AM on June 24th at the Q’oricancha, The Temple of the Sun (now a Dominican church – Iglesia de Santo Domingo). Hundreds and hundreds of people have roles in this theatrical performance on the green front lawn of what was the Temple of the Sun, which was sheathed in gold when the Spanish arrived into Cusco in 1532. They are all making various offerings of chichi (corn beer), potatoes, corn and flowers. Everyone in the Four Quarters of the Inca Empire, known as the Tawantinsuyo, is represented – from the Inca military to the jungle dancers. They make their way up Avenida El Sol around noon with a spectacular entry into the Main Plaza of Cusco. Actors representing the Inca (King) and Qoya (Queen) are carried on litters above the crowd who throw flower petals as they pass by in procession around the Plaza. The entire procession then ascends the steep mountain streets to Saqsaywaman, the famous Incan ruin overlooking Cusco for the final chapter of this most spectacular affair.


This is an Andean ritual which pays tribute to Mother Earth in honor of all she gives us. A key concept in the Andean culture is that of “ayni” or sacred reciprocity. This is a day set aside to symbolically give something back to Mother Earth. A beautiful mandala is created using many items from nature – seeds, coca leaves, dried fruits, flowers, rice, incenses, sweets and many other items. It is infused with the love that the people of Peru have, who are so closely connected to their Pachamama and it is offered to the spirits of the Andes Mountains and Mother Earth. This also marks the beginning of the Andean New Year. During the first 12 days of August is a period called “Las Cabañuelas”, brought over by the Spanish, where the weather is watched closely and a prediction is made for the weather for the upcoming year, to help the agricultural communities decide when to plant.

SANTURANTICUY – December 24th

This festival dates back to the Spanish Colonial period and is one of the largest handicrafts fairs in Peru. It takes place in the Main Plaza in Cusco and offers various religious images which are all handcrafted by local artisans, many things that are never seen anywhere else, or at any other time of the year. It is the custom of many Cusqueñans (people from Cusco) to have a nativity scene in their home during Christmas. December 24th, known as Noche Buena, is the big day in Peru, moreso than Christmas Day itself. On the 24th at midnight, a small figurine of Jesus is placed in the manger, and everyone goes to bed happy that Jesus has arrived! During Santuranticuy the campesinos, or country folk, come in from all over the region, selling various native plants, mosses and flowers to decorate the manger scenes. They have no place to stay in town, so they camp out in the Main Plaza and it is the custom of the city folk to bring them hot chocolate and snacks to tide them through the night, and you’ll see them standing in long lines waiting for a cocoa!

NEW YEARS EVE – Dec 31st

In the Main Plaza of Cusco New Year’s Eve is celebrated with festivities and bands playing! One thing that tourists notice with some amusement is that there is yellow underwear being sold on every street corner. The yellow represents gold and prosperity and you will even see people wearing their yellow underwear on top of their clothes to pronounce to the world that they are calling in abundance! There is absolutely no doubt when midnight hits as fireworks fill the sky! Everyone turns up in the Main Plaza with their own fireworks and they are going off in every direction! If you are lucky enough to be above the city on one of the mountainsides, looking down – it is a sight to behold! If you are in the Plaza itself – do be careful, as there doesn’t appear to be any supervision whatsoever! The bars and discos are open all night and you can party and dance until dawn!


Introducing our new route to Rainbow Mountain

30 Mar

By Lisa McClendon Sims

You may have recently noticed in popular social media and on the Internet the discovery of a fascinating new destination in the high Andes which is being referred to as the Rainbow Mountains of Peru. This mountain range is well-hidden in a tucked away area in the middle of the glacial mountains of the Vilcanota Range in the south of Peru, specifically in the shadow of the highest mountain in the Cusco Region, Apu Ausangate, which comes in at just under 21,000 feet elevation (6,300 meters), about a 4-hour drive from Cusco.

This discovery has recently generated a lot of interest and we have been receiving requests for treks to this area. So at the request of our clients, on Friday, March 18th Alpaca Expeditions sent an exploratory expedition of our guides, porters and horsemen to this newly discovered natural wonder and to find the best path and to be sure we know the conditions of the landscape. We are happy to announce that we are the first tour operator to offer organized treks to the Rainbow Mountains of Peru!

This is more of a wilderness trek, totally off the beaten track – above the tree line with magnificent views of the Andes and glacial peaks. The Rainbow Mountains are composed of stratified layers of sandstone. These fine grained rock layers contain abundant iron and other mineral compounds which provide the pigments for the various colored stripes of which the mountains are made.

Along the way there are many beautiful things to see – turquoise lakes, incredible glacial views, llamas and alpacas. There are still the wild vicuña to be seen along the way, which are now protected by the government and it is illegal to keep them in captivity. Vicuña is the most expensive wool in the world due to this fact and that they can only be shorn once every three years Their wool is incredibly warm and fine. The local Quechua campesinos call this event a “chaccu” when they herd the animals by making a huge circle of people, interlocking arms, to trap and shear the animals before setting them free again. Since this law passed in 1974, the vicuña population has increased from 6,000 to today’s population of 125,000! This wool sells for US$1800-$3000 (compared to cashmere wool which is $100 per yard) and is exported to make superfine cloths, sweaters and scarves.

Finding the best route for our clients took a few days of exploration and discovery – even when asking the locals most people have no idea where to find these magnificent mountains!! Finally, on Day 4 of our exploratory expedition we came over the crest of a mountain and BOOM! – there were the magnificent Rainbow Mountains in all their glory!!

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We will be ending this trek in the village of Chilca which is a part of the Quispicanchis Provence, then make the 4-hour drive back to Cusco. The best months for this trek will be April to November when we are not in our rainy season and there is not so much rain and snow.

So if you were disappointed to find that you are too late to hike the Classic Inka Tail this year (it is sold out through September now), be one of the first pioneers to make this trek with us!

We are considering offering this as a 6-day trek/tour which will encompass the Rainbow Mountain trek and also include a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Inkas and a day at Machu Picchu as well!

Watch this space for more information on this new development!

Check out now our 4 Day Trek to Rainbow Mountain.

The Majestic Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu – Machu picchu tours

17 Mar

Created by an Amazing Alpaca Trekkers. Check out there blog at PennyCaravan.Com

By Lisa McClendon Sims

The Salkantay Trek is the #1 Alternative Trek to the Inca Trail for several very good reasons.  The lanDSC_0354.JPGdscapes are absolutely magnificent and nature abounds, encompassing five different ecosystems which you will pass through during this trek. You will start with snow-capped glacial mountains dominated by Apu Salkantay at nearly 21,000 feet above sea level (6,271 meters) eventually descending into the lush tropical cloud forest. There are also many fewer trekkers along the way than you will find on the Inca Trail.

As you may have heard, the Classic 4-Day Inca Trail is sold out now through August and most of September. Unfortunately, the Peruvian government does not allow for refunds or replacements due to cancellation for any reason whatsoever. Unless you have an advance booking, it is now impossible to hike the Classic 4-day Inca Trail through any agency. This is not due to any individual agency not having space – it is that the Peruvian government has reached its limit of 500 people per day to enter the Inca Trail through most of September of this year. Many people are turning up in Cusco without reservations and are disappointed to find that after coming all this way, they cannot get entry into the Inca Trail.

However, what people don’t realize is that the Inca Trail is not just the 45 kilometer stretch that many people think it is. The Inca Trail, or Qhapaq Ñan as the Inca called it, is a 24,800-mile vast system of trails throughout the Andes Mountains

mp1Our Salkantay Trek is very special indeed, and a part of it does go along the Qhapaq Ñan.  Alpaca Expeditions has created our own private campsites for the first 2 nights of camping (with our own private toilet tents as well!) Our campsite on Dalunch-spoty 3 directly overlooks Machu Picchu, right below the ruins of Llactapata which we will also visit. On Day 4 we make our way to Aguas Calientes partly along the same path that Hiram Bingham took en route to his rediscovery of Machu Picchi in 1911.  This night you will spend in the comfort of a hotel bed in the town of Aguas Calientes, rising early on Day 5 to witness the sunrise over one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – Machu Picchu!

image2The Salkantay to Machu Picchu trek is considered a fairly challenging trek – many feel it to be slightly more challenging than the Inca Trail, so be sure to take a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude and do your best to get in shape before your arrival in Peru. We do offer 4 and 5 day treks, with the 5-day trek being a bit more leisurely than the 4-day trek.

When you are checking out the various tour companies, one caveat we offer is to be sure you know exactly what you are getting. When you are perusing the internet you will find reviews from people who thought they were getting a really good deal, only to find a number of the expenses were not included – things like transportation, water, food, English-speaking guides and the like.

P1090419Alpaca Expeditions takes great pride in the fact that we are Peruvian-owned and we hire locals whenever possible to help support the community. We outfit our support staff and porters with excellent equipment and offer a variety of social projects to support their villages (see our Social Projects page). Our trekking chefs continue to amaze our clients with sumptuous meals – the only complaint we’ve received is that there was too much food! Check out our reviews on Trip Advisor and you will see that over 1200 reviewers have rated Alpaca Expeditions #1!

View from Salkantay Campsite

Taken in March by Alpaca Trekker from our 3rd Camping site at Llacatapata

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Trekking to Machu Picchu, 2016 – Machu picchu tours

1 Mar

KM 82

By Lisa McClendon Sims

The Inca Trail’s new season starts TODAY, March 1st, 2016. Ever since Machu Picchu earned the distinction of being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, its popularity has been increasing steadily and we are seeing people from every possible corner of the world now in Peru sporting trekking poles and camelbacks!

Journey is the DestinationDid you know that the Inca Trail Trek is sold out through most of August already? Many people don’t realize that there is a limit of 500 trekkers per day to start the Inca Trail, and that number includes all of the support staff – guides, cooks, and porters. In order to preserve the integrity of this famous part of what the Inca called the Qhapaq Ñan – the 24,800 mile system of paths that run through the Andes and the ancient Inca Empire and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – no hooved pack animals are allowed along the majority of what is now known as the Inca Trail. We therefore have to rely on people to help us carry camping gear, food, sleeping and cooking supplies. In ancient times these people were called “chaskis” that ran like lightning along these paths tag-team style, and were famed for the speed in which they could get messages across the vast expanse of the Inca Empire.

Today, for each group of 6 trekkers, Alpaca Expeditions will have 11 porters, 1 chef and 1 guide. So you can see that we need triple the number of permits to enter the Inca Trail as we have trekkers. Thus the high demand for the 500-per-day permits.

Obviously, if you are wanting to hike the Inca Trail Trek in 2016, you need to make plans now! We still have all of September, October and half of November this year before our rainy season begins again in mid-November and the weather becomes a bit less predictable. We can make bookings through January of 2017 now. February 1st 2017 the Inca Trail will close for a month – February is our wettest month – during which time maintenance of the Trail is also carried out.

AlpacaExpeditions_Fotos_SantiagoPascual_037.jpgWere you wanting to hike in Peru before August of 2016? Not to worry!! Alpaca Expeditions specializes in Alternative Treks as well! Our two most popular alternative treks are the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and the Lares Trek. These less well known but fascinating treks and each have their own distinct flavor and style and fewer other hikers along the way. No permits from the Peruvian government are required for many of our alternative treks, and we are able to use pack animals, so they tend to be a bit less expensive than the Inca Trail Treks. The Salkantay to Machu Picchu trek scenery is perhaps even more stunning, and many of our trekkers feel that it is more challenging than the Inca Trail Trek.

The Lares Trek offers a few more cultural opportunities than the others. It starts in the Lares Valley and offers the opportunity to experience one of the few the thermal baths or “hot springs” in the Sacred Valley area. We trek through 3 highland villages and have the opportunity to meet with some of the colorful locals whose lifestyles have been frozen in time for the past several centuries, seeing how they live and bringing a little bit of prosperity to their villages along the way. This trek also passes through the Sacred Valley and ends with a tour of Machu Picchu.

There are many other alternative hikes that we offer.  Some of them end in Machu Picchu but do not require permits – like the Huchuy Qosqo Trek, our Cachicata Quarry Trek and also the Vilcabamba Trek. We have a couple of other fascinating treks which do not go to Machu Picchu, for those of you who have perhaps already been and so fallen in love with the Andes you want to see more. Choquekiraw is an amazing site that many say that more resembles Machu Picchu in the years before it became so popular and touristed (we do offer one tour that does take you to Machu Picchu after your Choquekiraw trek). Ausangate mountain towers over the Sacred Valley at nearly 21,000 feet above sea level (6,400 meters) and we offer 5 and 7 day Ausangate Treks. All of these treks are detailed on our website under Alternative Treks.

And maybe you don’t want to trek at all! We also offer train tours, Sacred Valley Tours, and individualized itineraries all over Peru! Regular entrance tickets into Machu Picchu don’t have such strict limitations, so we can book a train tour for you into Machu Picchu with much less notice.

Now is the time to book your trip to Peru! Let us help you decide which trek or tour is best for you! Check us out on Trip Advisor and you will see that we are #1 with over 1200 reviews! Call us, chat online or send us an email if you have any questions. We promise that you will love Peru!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa has been falling in love with Peru for 11 years, and lived in Cusco permanently for the past 5 years. She has been working with Alpaca Expeditions for 2 years. She has recently written a book called “Doves Fly in My Heart: My Love Affair with Peru” available on Pick it up and fall in love!

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(100% Local Company Focused on Giving back to Our Villages – Dedicated to improving the lives of our porters)

Inca Trail Trek,  Salkantay Trek,  Machu Picchu Tours,  Treks To Machu Picchu, Lares Trek

Prepping for 2016 – Lares trek

26 Feb

The government closes the Inca Trail for all of February. Mostly because this is typically the rainiest month here in Cusco, but also for the government to do some maintenance on the trail and to the campsites. So while New Years is celebrated worldwide on January 1st, we celebrate March 1st.

12675249_10207954826244284_871770348_oWe have spent this month making sure our team is ready and equipped. All our guides spent time with a professor from the local university in Cusco refreshing their history. We spent two evenings at the Planetarium in Cusco reviewing the galaxy so we can help those on our alternative treks find the constellations with our new telescopes. We had a medical doctor retrain our first aid skills and park rangers review trail rules and maintenance.

We even built a new campsite for our 5 Day/4 Night Salkantay Trek. Guides, porters and local villagers all worked together to build beautiful Inca terraces and plant local flowers around. We hope you will all enjoy.

12788503_10208082203428634_2013881786_oBut it wasn’t all work. We had an amazing party celebrating what a wonderful and successful year we had in 2015. We brought more porters and their families to Machu Picchu to introduce them to the place they have worked so hard for others to visit. We visited some of our porters homes with food, boots and supplies for their kids to use in school.

Yesterday we had our final meeting with park rangers and about 70 of our porters (we have close to 300 total now). We reviewed the maintenance of the equipment, how to properly dispose garbage and waste, and how to communicate with our clients without speaking the same language. Then we enjoyed a feast. 12788588_10208082204468660_541316078_o

Our team also spent time resting and enjoying time with their families. They are now rested and ready to make 2016 Alpaca Expeditions best year ever. We know that we could not do an amazing job without our team, and we think we have the best and happiest in Cusco. We are so excited for you to meet them.


Alpaca Expeditions offers Peru And Machu Picchu Tours, 4 Day Inca trail to Machu picchu, Hiking Salkantay, Sacred Valley and Pisaq Tours. We have 5 star Reviews with a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and is a fully licensed Inca Trail tour operator. 100% Local Peruvian Tour Operator. Inca Trail Trek, Salkantay Trek, Machu Picchu Tours, Treks To Machu Picchu, Lares Trek

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Navigate the skies with us – Inca trail

5 Feb

For those of you booked with us on one of our Alternative Treks, we have now added Telescopes to our campsites (one campsite on each trek). See how the Peruvian skies differ from your sky at home. Learn about our constellations and why the Incas relied on them so much for weather and farming conditions.

For those of you coming from the northern hemisphere, this will be especially interesting. With the South Pole facing the galactic center of the Milky Way, the southern skies provide a much brighter white stripe of the Milky Way – and the majestic Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (our Milky Way’s satellite galaxies).A northern observer will see things topsy-turvy when looking at the southern skies – familiar constellations seem upside down – but getting a glimpse of Crux, the Southern Cross, which is the smallest and the most famous constellation in the southern hemisphere (it is displayed on the New Zealand, Australian, and Brazilian flags) is a thrill that reminds you how dependent we used to be on the stars to navigate our way across the world. Equally impressive is the glowing band of our own galaxy – the Milky Way – with its patches of light and dark stretching across the sky. The non-luminous part of the Milky Way is called the Great Rift (or more poetically “the Dark River”); it is made of overlapping dust clouds containing about 1 million solar masses of plasma and dust situated in the Sagittarius Arm of our galaxy Differences For Northern and at a distance of about 300 light years from Earth.
Image of the Milky Way (source)

The Incas’ Constellations:

For the Incas, “Mayu,” (the Milky Way) was a life-giving river in the heavens with its earthly counterpart – the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, high up in the Andes Mountains. The Incas grouped constellations into two different types – luminous and dark. The first was made up of sparkling stars that depicted geometric forms in the sky. These luminous constellations were seen as inanimate. The other kind – the dark cloud constellations – were contained within the dark blotches of the Milky Way, and were considered living forms, representing animals the Incas knew. These dark patches represented the silhouettes of animals that came to drink from the waters of celestial river, obscuring the heavenly glow of Mayu.

One of the most important dark cloud constellations was Yacana –the llama, which rises above Cuzco, the ancient capital city of the Incas, in November. It consists of two llamas – the Mother Llama, seen between the Southern Cross and Scorpio, and the Baby Llama, suckling at her mother’s breast. Although The Llama is a dark cloud constellation, the eyes of the Mother Llama are the two bright stars from the constellation Centaurus. One is Alpha Centauri, which is the third brightest star in the night sky (to the naked eye it appears as one star, but is in fact a binary star system), and the other – Beta Centauri, is a trinary star system.

Another dark constellation is the Serpent – Mach’acuay –a wavy black ribbon between the star Adhara, in Canis Major, and the Southern Cross. It appears above Cuzco in August and sets in February, when its earthly counterparts become visible and more active in the area. Mach’acuay was in charge of all snakes and vipers on Earth, and offerings were made by the Incas to protect themselves from snake bites.

This painting shows some of the animal shapes that the Incas saw in the dark spots of the Milky Way Photo by Koricancha Sun Temple/CuscoThis painting shows some of the animal shapes that the Incas saw in the dark spots of the Milky Way. Two black spots near the Southern Cross are Hanp’atu, the Toad, and Yutu, the Andean ground Partridge. These two keep a safe distance from the Serpent in the east, and from Atoq, the Fox, in the west. The dark constellation of Yutu (the Partridge) occupies the same area as the dark Coalsack Nebula in the constellation Crux, which in Australian Aboriginal astronomy is the head of their dark constellation “Emu in the Sky.”

The reason why the Incas revered the skies and celestial events was two-fold. First, their observations of stars, of constellations (dark and stellar), and of the movements of the sun and moon, provided them with units of time, and a calendar system which helped them plan agricultural and herding activities.

Second, although the Incas worshipped dark constellations, they thought of themselves as descendents of the sun god – Inti. The Festival of the Sun “Inti Raymi “ is still celebrated in indigenous cultures throughout the Andes. “Inti Raymi” was celebrated by the Incas on the shortest day of the year during the winter solstice, and was the most important event in their lives. Little did they know that the object of their worship was a gigantic ball of hot plasma with an internal temperature of 15 million degrees Celsius, and racing inside their celestial river “Mayu” at the speed of 225km per second.

Eat Like a Local, Street Food in Cusco

17 Dec

By Julian Kircher

So you’re in a foreign country, everything looks and sounds and smells strange, nothing more so that the food. Fruit reminds you of the fruit back home but there is always some important difference: the colour is wrong, it’s too big or the wrong shape or smells funny. The good news however is that locals have been eating these things for a long time and most of them look almost alive and healthy. So we can assume the food here is safe and perhaps even delicious. Well let me try and convince you that with an open mind and empty stomach Cusco can be exceptionally rewarding. So I have compiled a sample menu that will rival any fancy French restaurant, except here you won’t find any snooty waiters floating around the place and you probably won’t be served swan lightly fried in unicorn tears and served on a bed of moonrock. Also the whole thing will cost you less than $10 and you will get to see and experience a handsome chunck of Cusco.


Where to start? Well you will want a hearty meal to start out with. San Pedro is the place to go for this. A bustling hive of vendors that sell fabrics and trinkets and most importantly food. Food of every sort is found here. Hidden away at the back of the market there is a large space where dozens of tiny food stalls, with a small rickety bench in front of them, serve food of all description. Most of these places will have set menus and for around 4 – 6 Soles you can get a starter (usually soup) and a choice of mains. Served with a little fruit juice. This is the authentic experience. You you will set next to the local workforce, enveloped by the steam and the sumptuous smells from hundreds of bubbling pots. This experience will make you feel like a local. Everything is made fresh and personally this is the one place where I have never gotten sick.

Now that your stomach has stopped rumbling you will want dessert. Remember you are on holiday so don’t count those calories. As such I have collected several post-meal options here because let’s face it: that is all we really wanted anyway. But before we become too unhealthy let us make a quick and nutritious stop. Fruit juices!

At the opposite end of San Pedro a horde of waving ladies wait patiently behind unstable looking mountains of fruit and vegetables. Ready to shred and blend any combinations of fruit possible. They will assist you in picking out delicious combinations. So far the following combinations have proven to be the best: banana, mango, strawberry as a milkshake with honey (this is the rich, creamy sweet option) if you want something else (although I don’t know why you would) then a combinations of strawberry, apple and orange or a combinations of banana, mango and papaya will give you slightly fruitier tastes. Juices are approx. 6-8 Soles.

Now we have assuaged our inner Nutritionist it is time to move onto something more unhealthy. Take a stroll behind the San Pedro market. There you will find a street with an army of vendors shouting and crying, their wares displayed at their feet. Among this bee hive of activities and noises you will find one or perhaps several Picarones stands. 12395291_10153859257388258_577545405_nThis is what we have all been waiting for. Sweet dough made from sweet potatoes then quickly deep fried and covered in honey. Go on you’ve earned it. This deliciousness is made fresh in front of your eyes and the smell alone will remain with you for a long time. Around 2-4 Soles.

Now you are probably almost full, your stomach may be hurting since you left self-control behind at San Pedro. Well then the answer is to stop off at an12386752_10153859257773258_236457748_n Emolientes stand. These pop up around evening time and you want have to walk long to find them. A small cart containing a big pot of hot water and about half a dozen bottles, each filled with a different coloured liquid. This cart looks more like a mobile improvised chemistry lab. Don’t shy away! These are all herbal infusions which are mixed, all together, with hot water and a bit of gelatin. This creates a very thick and herby concoction which will act as an internal heating system for you as well as aid with digestion. This is the least you can do for your poor stomach. Usually around 1 or 2 Soles.

Well there you have it. My menu. Hopefully you are feeling as hungry as I am, luckily this is exactly what I will eat tonight, you will have to make the journey over here too in order to enjoy these culinary treats.

Alpaca Expeditions Toy Drive

11 Dec

By Julian Kircher

So Christmas is almost upon us; the shops are lit in bright lights and sparkling tinsel, everywhere the food is becoming more and more fatty and delicious. We start ignoring our last new year’s resolutions and do buy that sumptuous chocolate cake that glistened a dark and luxurious brown from the window of our favorite bakery. And that is ok! Christmas is the time to think about the pleasure and joy in others and to let ourselves feel that same pleasure and joy. The shops are filled with rows and rows of toys which we all look forward to place into the hands of beaming kids. We are even humble enough to tell our children that this toy is not from us but from the magical Father Christmas, who is flying around and making children everywhere giggle. Imagine that feeling!

Your job is solely to make children happy. Can there be anything more purely good than that? Luckily a vacancy has just opened up and we want you to fill it! Imagine being Father Christmas for a day, being someone magical and exotic who will delight and enchant the children. Well, we would like to give you this opportunity.

Alpaca Expeditions has been working together with the small and secluded Andean village of Wakatinku, located deep in the Andean mountains. A village that supplies many of the porters whose tireless efforts ensure that your trek is the best it can be and a truly unforgettable experience. Many of the porters still have families who live in this village and who often lack even the most basic amenities that we take for granted. Because Alpaca Expeditions was founded on an altruistic principle we have been trying to give back to this village, and to say thank you to the backbone of this company – the porters, by supplying their families with some basic necessities.

Over the past we have given hygiene products, school supplies, sports equipment and many other small but necessary things. We have even paid for an extra teacher to be sent to the village since the local school was sorely understaffed.

This Christmas we want to bring the children of Wakatinku something special for Christmas and we would love your help.

If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu, or have any other tours booked with us we ask you to bring along a small toy, or anything else that tickles your fancy, to give to the children of Wakatinku. If you want to feel like Father Christmas to children that will appreciate just about anything you give them then here is your chance. It is actually quite easy. See picture below for instructions:

We are planning to surprise these children with our own Father Christmas and to give them a true Christmas shower of gifts. If you would like to be a part of this then we would welcome any small gifts or tokens that you would like these children to receive at Christmas. Remember that thing you never really use – that would probably be perfect, or that stuff collecting dust in the attic – perfect. We want to make Christmas as truly magical for these children as this time of year is for us. In that spirit we invite you to bring anything – whether it is simply something useful (soap, clothing, school books etc.) or something that is simply going to bring them joy (toys, footballs (they REALLY love football over here) etc.) You could of course bring the new Star Wars on blue ray but since they have no blue ray players over there this may be kept by meJ

We look forward to welcoming you to Peru,

Jumping with joy at Deadwoman Pass on Inca Trail

Jumping with joy at Deadwoman Pass on Inca Trail

Happy Holidays!

A Glimpse of Cusco at Night

10 Dec

By Julian Kircher

Around Cusco there are a lot of great bars that offer a varied nightlife – especially for tourists. However tucked in between these more popular bars there are some true hidden gems. Meeting places for the locals and expats living here and offering a type of entertainment that you won’t find anywhere else.


One of these treasures is called Ukukus. Only about 100meters from the plaza de Armas this bar/club is reached through an unassuming little doorway on calle plateros (the north-west offshoot of plaza de Armas)

You won’t find the normal glitz and glamour of the upscale bars and hotels that seem to cater exclusively to the tourists in Cusco. Here you will find hand painted walls, an eclectic mix of locals and long term travelers and a very intimate vibe. Don’t expect any house/electro or typical Peruvian music that they seem to play everywhere to impress the tourists. The bands here play all kinds of music, though you will see a lot of Rock/alternative fused with Andean rhythms. An amazing sound you won’t find anywhere else. They offer a program most nights of the week featuring art shows, culture shows and of course all kinds of amazing live music. They have a program on their Facebook page – just search for Ukukus Bar.

They refer to themselves as a culture laboratory and that is certainly the feeling you get when you walk in for the first time – the culture seems so different and – dare I say it- alternative that it does feel like an experiment gone right.

This is a perfect place to get to know some of the locals and people from all around South America. The vibe is friendly and very open and everyone seems keen to talk – although a lot of people there may not speak English so a small amount of Spanish would go a long way.

If you want to avoid the throngs of tourists mingling in generic bars, enjoy all kinds of different live music and appreciate a relatively cheap beer (around 10-15 soles although they do have a happy hour) then this is the place for you. Be prepared to dance!


If you prefer places where you can bump into other tourists and will most likely be able to talk in English then here is a list of some fantastic places to visit

Paddy’s Irish Pub – Of course there is one in every town and this is no different. A stylish and traditional Irish Pub, a popular spot for English speaking people this Pub reportedly sells the world’s highest Guinness – unfortunately not on tap. Have a pint here and enjoy the simple but delicious bar food. Also usually shows sports on the TV’s (football and rugby) so come here for important games (located right on the plaza de Armas)

Beer Prices –$5-7 for a pint so a little on the expensive side


Nortons – A self-styled biker bar this is a popular spot with the tourists and has a great vibe. Enjoy one of many local craft beers on the balcony overlooking the Plaza der Armas. Nortons also has an excellent and delicious menu at quite reasonable prices (around 15 soles/5$ for a main course meal). This place will also show all important games though only in football. (located on Plaza de Armas)

Beer Prices – a little cheaper than Paddy’s. Craft Beer will be around $5 a pint and very tasty


Mushrooms – more of a lounge than a bar, here you will always find a DJ playing a mix of electronic and Hip-hop music. A great place to chill, play some billiard and enjoy some delicious Pisco Sours. (Located on Plaza de Armas)

Prices- Around $8 for a Pisco Sour though they are two for one during happy hour


Faces of Cusco – probably the most chilled out place of all of these. A gathering spot for mostly American expats, here you can watch American football, chill with a local craft beer and have some delicious food. During the day faces also offers all kinds of activities such as a tour of the local San Pedro market, dancing lessons, cocktail workshops and many more. Thursday night there is live music from local artists. (Also located right on Plaza de Armas)

Prices: Around $3-5 for a beer. Food will be around $10 for a main course but offers the best food on this list.

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