On December 9th, we took off from Arequipa on an 11 hour bus journey to Cusco. The night bus ride was intense reaching extremely high altitudes with freezing temperatures. Around 7am on December 10th, we arrived to Cusco. Cusco is a charming town with cobblestone streets with population approximately at 400,000 and was formerly the capital of the Inca Empire. Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO.
We stayed at a very quaint hotel Samana Inn and Spa. It’s a brand new hotel which has been run by a local Peruvian guy who has lived and worked all throughout the US. There is still a lot of work to be done, but overall, it was a nice find (although there were moments when I may have flipped out when the shower wasn’t hot or the wifi wasn’t working).
With the elevation reaching about 11,000 feet in Cusco, the air is thin and the weather is crazy (it goes from hot to hailing in the matter of minutes). It is definitely a micro-climate.
Luckily, the altitude sickness did not hit either one of us too much and we were able to go out and see the town right away.
First stop, laundry! For $3, we had all of our laundry washed and neatly folded (heaven). Then, we were off for some much needed soup (stomachs’ still a total mess – 6 days and counting). What we learned about high altitude is that it is super important to eat light when arriving to Cusco, so the body doesn’t work overtime digesting the food. The entire time we were in Cusco, we were totally boring food wise and just kept going to Jack’s Cafe for delicious chicken soup and their yummy avocado, basil and tomato sandwich (owned by an Irish man and an English woman who sadly passed away at a very young age just a few months ago, leaving behind her 12 year old son Jack (thus, the restaurants’ name) .
I know, I know, we should have tried the guinea pig (local favorite), but we wanted to make sure that we weren’t a mess before trekking the Inca Trail.
If you do make it out to Cusco, a few recommendations for you (go soon as their tourism is growing every year by at least 1 million people and thus getting more and more expensive):
- Bring Diamox (altitude sickness meds) – you never know how you will react to the elevation until you get there. Start taking it 1-2 days before arriving to Cusco.
- Try to stay at the same hotel before the Inca Trek and after, so you can leave your bags behind with the hotel while hiking for a few days.
- Stay in Cusco for 3 or so days before doing the trek.
- Drink LOTS of coca leaf (mate de coca) tea – it really does help with the headaches and energy (it is delicious with a spoon of sugar). Don’t drink it too late in the evening, or you will be up all night!
- On a first day or two, do very little activity (going up a flight of stairs is exhausting enough)!
- Do a free walking tour on day one or two – great way to get to know the city.
- Get a pint of your favorite beer (sadly, no Guinness) at Paddy’s Irish Pub – the highest 100% Irish owned pub on the planet (or so they say).
- Go to El Hada ice cream shop (for the most part, the ice cream in Peru is not very good because the dairy doesn’t taste great; but, this place hits the spot).
- Try to make it out to Pisac and Ollantaynambo (the sacred valley) to see more ruins as mini day trips (more on this from Kieran).
- You can hike up to Sacsayhuaman (Incan ruins) but it is extremely overpriced. So, my suggestion is to hike up to “Cristo Blanco” which takes you on a nice one hour walk around the neighborhoods up to see the Man himself. Ask any local, and they will tell you how to hike up there for free (this will be a nice uphill prep for Machu Picchu).
Cusco is a stunner of a city with beautiful red roofs. It’s nice to just get lost in the cobble streets for hours at a time.
Next up – the 4 day classic inca trek. Stay tuned!