Although Machu Picchu is the highlight of most trips to Peru, it is certainly not the only destination. When my wife and I went on a “Sacred Mysteries of Peru” tour several years ago, three of our 12 days were spent at Machu Picchu, and any more would have been too much of a good thing. Besides the “Lost City of the Incas,” there are many more sacred sites in Peru that are conveniently located enough to be included in an itinerary.
Centuries ago, Cusco was the center of the Inca empire. Today it’s the jumping off place for most Peru trips, because it is where you get the train to Machu Picchu. Cusco was built in the shape of a stylized puma, and at its head is the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuaman. The name, Quechua for “satisfied falcon,” refers to a terrible battle fought in 1536 between Spanish invaders and the defending Incas. After the natives were annihilated, carrion-eating falcons feasted on the bodies. Sacsayhuaman is acclaimed for its walls that are built from enormous blocks of stone, weighing up to 300 tons and precisely fitted together without mortar.
One of many amazing sights at Sacsayhuaman is the so-called “serpent stone” pictured above. It is located alongside the entrance to an area believed to have been a ceremonial temple. The carvings in the stone are the same size and shape of a human head and spine. Our guide said the seven indentations were once filled with crystal spheres, representing the seven chakras. Is it possible that the Inkas had the same knowledge of kundalini energy that is so fundamental to the Ayurvedic medicine of India? Our tour host, Mark Amaru Pinkham, author of Return of the Serpents of Wisdom said this was because both the Inca and Indian civilizations gained their knowledge from ancient Mu or Lemuria. I suspect that Giorgio A. Tsoukalos would say it was “aliens.”
If Sacsayhuaman represents Cusco’s head, then its heart is the Coricancha. The Temple of the Sun was the primary temple of the Incas. According to Brother Philip in his book Secret of the Andes, it was the repository of a magical golden disc that originated in the lost continent of Mu. When the Spanish came, the disc was taken away and hidden near Lake Titicaca. A 17th century convent, the church of Santo Domingo has been built on top of the Inca stonework. Earthquakes have caused the Spanish-built church to require significant repairs over the years, but the Coricancha has so far been impervious, although the sheets of gold which once adorned its walls have been missing for centuries.
About five miles outside of Cusco is Tambomachay, the site known as the sacred Inca baths. There is a remarkable system of beautifully carved aqueducts in the rocks where the sights and sounds of clear, trickling water have led many experts to believe this is a site where water was worshipped as the source of all life on earth. Tambomachay is a popular place for spiritual tour groups to hold cleansing ceremonies.
If ever I were to return to Peru, the one place I would most like to re-visit is Pisac. Located in the Sacred Valley about 20 miles out of Cusco, Pisac is the name of both a delightful village and the Inca citadel above it. Situated on the top of a small mountain, but surrounded by much higher peaks, Pisac is very much like a miniature Machu Picchu. Although my visit was on one of the three days when there is a lively public market held in the village, our tour group had the sacred temples and terraces all to ourselves. Similar to Machu Picchu, Pisac has an intihuatana, a “hitching post of the sun” carved out of the bedrock and seemingly in communication with the spirits of the powerful mountains that surround it. Although the day had been mostly sunny and warm, as we were leaving it suddenly began to rain very heavily for a few minutes. Then the rain stopped as quickly as it had started, leaving us with a vision of a dramatic, double rainbow glowing above the Sacred Valley.
Less than 40 miles from Cusco, and also in the Sacred Valley, is Ollantaytambo, another Inca complex that rivals Machu Picchu with its dramatic architecture. The site is most famous for the six stone monoliths in the Sun Temple at its top. The cyclopean stone wall, over 12-feet high, is made from pink granite that was quarried many miles away and on the other side of the Urubamba River. Carved into the wall were the animals that represented the three worlds of the Incas, a condor, puma and snake. The conquering Spanish erased all but a faint trace of these pagan images, but the citadel is magnificent nevertheless.
We toured the Machu Picchu, Cusco and Sacred Valley areas of Peru in 1997. I am very glad that we were part of a small group tour, organized by Body Mind Spirit Journeys, as the logistics of making travel connections, planning the itinerary, getting admission tickets to attractions, booking accommodations and identifying appropriate restaurants would have been much more exhausting and frustrating without professional help. Of course, an added bonus was sharing the experiences with like-minded people.
Photos by Robert Scheer