|This article featuring Peru is the second in a three part series
written by Jose A. Isola a resident of Peru. This month we will visit
the beautiful cities of Cusco, Aguas Calientes and the sacred Incan temple
of Machu Picchu. Access-Able would like to extend our many thanks
to Jose and Prom Peru for sharing with us the access features of these
To write about the beauties of the city of Cusco, Peru and the magnificence of the Machu Picchu archeological site is not an easy task. There is so much to tell you about that I honestly do not know where to start. So let’s do it from the beginning. Cusco is located at the southeast region of Peru, at an altitude of 11,203 ft. (3,395 m) above sea level. The annual average temperature is 52ºF/11ºC (maximum of 63ºF/17ºC and minimum of 28ºF/-2ºC). The rainy season is from November to March.
To get to Cusco you will take a flight from Lima that takes around 55 minutes. The flights usually leave very early in the morning, so probably your day will start at around 3:30 a.m. If you decide to catch the first flight out of Lima, the plane will leave around 6:00 a.m., that means you should be at the Lima Airport at 4:00 a.m.
The Cusco Airport has been recently renovated and is the only airport in Peru equipped with jet ways between the terminal and the planes. Accessible public restrooms are located in the area of the boarding gates on the second floor and at the area of international arrivals on the first floor. These restrooms are large and adequate for wheelchair users but toilets do not have grab bars. Accessible restrooms are not marked. The airport has wheelchairs available upon request. Two of the airline companies operating in this airport have boarding chairs; nevertheless, one must monitor staff assistance as they are not all well trained. The route from the planes to the baggage claim area is also accessible but ramps have steep grades and one must be helped - these routes are not marked. The exit from the baggage claim area to the parking lot is accessible and has smooth grade ramps.
There is no accessible public transportation or taxis in the city of Cusco. The Catholic University together with the British Council are working on a project to implement such a service in Peru. They have chosen Cusco to be the first Peruvian city served by this service taking into consideration it’s importance for tourism and the fact that a lot of the eyes of the world are set on what is going on in Cusco.
We advise that, because of the altitude, you restrain your physical movements and activities at least during the first six to eight hours. You will probably experience a light head ache, lack of breath and difficulty breathing if you move around too much during the first couple of hours you’re there. We suggest you drink “coca tea”, a local beverage made with leaves from the “coca” tree. This tea contains a minimum amount of the alkaloid and it will help you cope with the possible effects of the high altitude.
There are two five star hotels that have accessible rooms. The first one is the Hotel Monasterio. This hotel is located within an ancient monastery. It has 122 rooms, and two of them have roll in showers. The entrance is not at street level but there is a movable ramp available and help at hand. There is a wheelchair available for the guests and movable ramps in the different areas where there is a step, such as the restaurant and the main patio that leads to the rooms. Although there is an elevator, one can reach the second floor rooms without using it as one enters the Hotel at that level. While the bathroom has a narrow door (26.3 inches /0.67 m wide) the transfer shower is manageable, with a fixed seat and a hand held showerhead. Furthermore, the controls are easy to reach and lever-type. With regard to common areas, the main bar has three steps at the entrance and the conference hall can be accessed from the street; it is really an ancient chapel whose main door is in front of the small square facing the hotel.
Hotel Libertador Cusco is a five-star hotel with 254 rooms, 6 of which are accessible. They are currently building 8 additional accessible rooms for future use. At the main entrance there is one step upwards and then four steps down. In the future these could be improved with movable wooden ramps, although they will have a steep slope. Notwithstanding, there is always help available at the door to enter. The house is Historical Heritage and therefore that zone cannot be renovated. There is an accessible level entrance at the back door, which can be used with previous co-ordination. The accessible rooms have doors 33.4 inches (0.85 m) wide. Knobs are lever-type, and light and air-conditioning switches are 3.44-ft. (1.05 m) high. Closets are not accessible for people in wheelchairs. The space between the beds is not big enough (21.6 inches / 0.55 m wide), but one can ask to have them moved. Bathrooms in these rooms are accessible. The entrance door opens outwards and is 33.4 inches (0.85 m) wide. The sink has enough room underneath but the mirror is somewhat high. There is no transfer space next to the toilet and it does not have grab bars. The tub has a grab bar, lever-type knobs and shower with a hand held showerhead. There are no shower benches available. The other non-adapted rooms in the hotel have entrance doors 30.7 inches (0.78 m) wide and the bathrooms are not accessible. The restaurant, conference halls and one of the bars are accessible without any help, as well as the gym, Jacuzzi and sauna. The hotel has accessible public restrooms in the lobby. The souvenir shop is accessible with help.
Some of the important places and archeological sites to visit in and near to the city of Cusco are: The Cathedral of Cusco which was originally built over the Suntur Wasi (Quechua for God’s house). The façade and interior are Renaissance style. Do not feel discouraged by the stairs leading to the main entrance, as there is a ramp from Cuesta Almirante Street that allows you to enter through the left wing. The large wooden door has a raised threshold but there are movable wooden ramps. The cathedral has eleven chapels on its side wings and a small church called El Triunfo, which is accessible with help (one step). The crypt containing the ashes of writer Inca Garcilaso de la Vega is not accessible because it is located in the basement. The visit to the cathedral is a must. The Koricancha Temple / Convent of Saint Dominic is the Quechua word for “gold zone”; this place is thought to be a religious building where the Incas worshiped the sun. According to the chroniclers, its interior walls were covered by gold plates. It was built during the government of Inca Pachacútec and on top of the building the Spanish built the Convent of Saint Dominic. The local museum located in El Sol Avenue is not accessible, but the Convent of Saint Dominic built on top of the Temple of Koricancha is accessible with help. There are six steps from the street to the entrance door. Between the ticket counter and the building there is a removable wooden ramp (one step). Public restrooms are not accessible. The convent has a collection of colonial paintings that is exhibited in an area that is accessible with help (one step). One can enter the Temple of the Stars without any help. The sacrifice room and the room where the rainbow was worshipped can be appreciated without entering them. One can access the terrace with help: from there you can observe the sacred garden and water fountain. There is access to these places on El Sol Avenue and from there you will also be able to appreciate the façade of the Koricancha Temple in its entire splendor. This façade is an example of the complex fusion between the Inca and Spanish architecture.
Saqsayhuamán, which in Quechua means “Satisfied Hawk”, is an imposing Inca structure which was built to protect the city of Cusco. It is located 1.2 miles (2 Km.) above Cusco and has three large switch back terraces, built with enormous rock walls of up to 984 ft. (300 m) long. The entrance is level but one must cross a small ditch. A portable ramp can be used. The easiest way to view the structure is from the large flat plain at its base. At the far end of this ceremonial plaza one has a good view of the imposing white statue of Jesus which overlooks Cusco as well of the city itself with its terra cotta roofs. Near the entrance there is an earthen ramp leading to the first level of the terraces which has a step about every 13 feet (4 m). It is not necessary to climb in order to have a good view of the area. Public restrooms are not accessible. Saqsayhuamán is an important archaeological site to visit in order to understand better the Inca civilization. Another nearby attraction is Quenqo, a place of worship located 1.8 miles (3 Km) away from Cusco and built over an outcrop of limestone rocks, with underground galleries and a semicircular amphitheater. People in wheelchairs can appreciate the archaeological site from the road. It is a wonderful experience to feel the mystery and spirituality of the place. The passage between rocks leading to the sacred place is not accessible for a wheelchair user because the space is too narrow. It is located in a type of natural cave and has a structure of flat stone which is thought to have been used for sacrifices. Together with Puca Pucara, it forms part of the archaeological circuit close to the city of Cusco.
Puca Pucara is a Quechua term meaning “Red Fortress”. It is a military construction with stairs, terraces and high walls. Located 3.7 miles (6 Km) away from Cusco, it is thought to have formed part of the defense system for the city. The access to the first level is easy; there you will find some of the main rooms of the archaeological complex. Doors are 36.6 inches (0.93 m) wide. From these rooms, the visitors can feel they are in a fortress, appreciating the valley’s panoramic views and the archaeological site of Tambomachay. If desired, one can view the fortress from the road and realize perfectly the function and location of this Inca structure. Tambomachay, located at 4.3 miles (7 Km) away from Cusco is also known as the Inca Baths. It is considered a place to worship the water because there is a group of aqueducts, channels and small cascades on the rocks that carry water from a nearby spring. There is no need to climb the archaeological site to appreciate the place, as there is a good perspective at the base of the fountains. Tradition says that if one drinks the water, the visitor guarantees his/her return to Cusco.
If you decide to visit the Valley of Urubamba or the “Sacred Valley” you must stop in Pisac. This is a picturesque town located 19.8 miles (32 Km) northeast of Cusco (1 hour away by car). It is the entrance gate to the Valley of Urubamba and famous for its colonial Church where masses in Quechua are held every Sunday. Its colorful fairs also take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The market where the fair takes place is accessible but there are no public restrooms. The surface of the market’s main area, where the fair takes place, is made of flat stone that makes rolling easy for wheelchair users, except in some zones (such as the lower part of the market away from the Church and the street in front of it) that have small stones on the surface. The space between stands is wide, they are at the right height to see the products and the area is shaded. The Church is an important tourist attraction that has to be visited. Although it has some stairs at the main entrance, the access is possible with help.
If you would like to spend the night in the “Sacred Valley” you can ask your tour operator to book you a night’s stay at the Posada del Inca in Yucay, this picturesque three-star hotel, set in a former monastery, has 69 rooms, two of which are adapted. The entrance is accessible. One can enter through the side entrance where there are ramps in the street or through the main door using removable wooden ramps to go up and down one step. Accessible rooms, located on the ground floor, also are accessed via removable wooden ramps, as are the bar, restaurant and reception. The hotel has no internal halls on the first level. Rooms have direct doors to go outside, very useful in case of a quick fire evacuation. The room doors are 35 inches (0.89 m) wide and the bathroom doors are 33 inches (0.84 m.) wide. Public restrooms at the restaurant and bar are not accessible. While the gift shop is not ramped, one can access a small handicrafts market in the courtyard. Many tourists stop here for the excellent buffet lunch served in the restaurant's patio. The hotel is planning to do some renovations in the public restrooms.
Dining in Cusco can also be a very gratifying experience. For these purposes we have listed several restaurants and their specific access information in the Access-Able Database.
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