A week in Cusco: a summary. City is a nice blend of Europe and Morocco and will give you the Peru you always imagine. P.S. This was my favorite week in Peru, LOVED the little mountain town and all its surrounding activities.
- The flag of Cusco is a rainbow, almost identical to the gay pride flag, total coincidence and not necessarily a sign that Cusco is very liberal. The difference between the two? Cusco has 7 colored stripes, other one has 6.
- Cusco is 3,400m (11,200ft) in elevation, that’s HIGH. It was actually wild how quickly I felt it. Just walking up a small hill to my hostel from the city center was #work. I recommend building in a day to acclimate but not spending that day doing nothing, the sooner you make your body work a little, the sooner you’ll get used to it. My symptoms? Fingers tingled, feet tingled, and the weirdest: face tingled. I was taking acetazolamide to help, but didn’t like it. I ended up just drinking a LOT of water and eating/drinking coca, a natural stimulant. You will find coca everywhere in the form of tea, leaves, and candies. Also my appetite was real strange, got full very quickly.
- The food in Cusco is 10/10!! Like, Lima is good, Cusco is next level. Didn’t have a meal I did not like. And because of all the calories we were burning just existing and breathing, could take in a few extra cals. Lots of GF too!
- Quechua is the language of the indigenous people. Inca is the Quechua word for ‘king’. Wormi is ‘woman’ in Quechua and Lima comes from the word rimaq for ‘the talker’. Machu Picchu means ‘old mountain’.
- Met lots of llamas and alpacas this week. How to tell them apart? Alpaca are generally shorter in height, with shorter necks, longer hair, and more smushed looking faces. The best quality wool actually comes from vicuñas, another animal in the family, then alpaca wool, then llama wool. Historically, the vicuña and alpaca wool were used for royalty, and llama for the common people. Peruanos also used the bones for tools and instruments. None of these are ridden, but can be used to transport goods especially up and down the mountains. Also got to taste alpaca, it’s healthier than llama and has less cholesterol than beef. Tasted like turkey to me.
- The Incans were the last civilization in Peru before the Spaniards invaded. It’s said that the original Inca (king) and qoya (queen) rose from Lake Titicaca. *may have put that fact in their just to name drop the lake
- Doggos. Peru has lots of dogs roaming around, especially in Cusco. Their national dog is the hairless Peruvian Inca Orchid, a less than beautiful breed in my opinion. In Lima, there’s also the concept of a roof dog. For people that don’t have yards, they use their roofs as outdoor spaces for dogs.
- Cusco and area offer sooo many artisan goods for purchase. A recommended and my favorite shop was Pedazo de Arte. I also had a really special moment in a more hidden shop run by Juanita. Located on a side street near the Plaza de Armas. Have been really good about not buying things this year, but man, left here with a hat, stickers, rings, a bracelet…whoops.
- Machu Picchu fun things:
- Machu Picchu was a main city in the in Incan empire
- Rediscovered in 1911 by an American
- One of the 7 Wonders of the World, my first one!
- Can only see 80% of the city, historians estimate, there is more that hasn’t been unveiled.
- The site is entirely restored, not reconstructed
- It’s said that the Inca had 400 wives. One example of a fact that I’m like butttt how do we really know?
- To preserve the authenticity of the area, it’s forbidden to take jumping photos, naked photos, to eat food, carry plastic bottles/trash, and take promotional photos with flags and other paraphernalia. Of course people will still do all these things.
- No bathrooms on the premises, only at the entrance
- Humantay Lake was another destination hit this week. It’s a spectacle that sits a three hour drive west of Cusco city, at 4,200m in elevation. Known for its sparkling blue color, it is home to zero fish because of the strong mineral content and lack of oxygen.
- Flew from Lima to Cusco, about an hour flight and very affordable
- Checked into my hostel for the weekend: Selina, Plaza de Armas. $8 a night for an 8 person room. Nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at and complete with workspace, café, shared kitchen, and live music every night
- Dinner at Bodega 138, known for their pizza. Recommendations from the RY city team were amazing all weekend.
- Work from the Selina and start getting acclimated
- Dinner at Uchu, a fancier Peruvian restaurant where I tried alpaca (off someone else’s plate, didn’t order it ha)
- This was the worst night in terms of altitude, tingles all over
- Begin journey to Macchu Picchu with Cusi Travel with a first stop at an alpaca farm in Sacred Valley. Take many failed selfies with them…cuz that’s what they are there for, right?
- Visit Pisac ruins to see Inca burial grounds and ancient irrigation systems. At this point, I was sufficiently in awe how beautiful the area was. Mountains everywhere.
- Buffet lunch Urubamba. Best part? The two little girls I met on the restaurant’s lawn. I bought a little llama keychain from them, but we had so much fun trying to communicate. One of them (maybe 10 years old) spoke a teeny bit of English and she laughed at my Spanish. I also taught her how to fist bump #proudamerican…
- Me: Do you go to school?
- Her: Yes, from 8 in the morning to 1:15 then I come here. This is my friend (the 6 year old girl with her)
- Visit Ollantaytambo, another really sweet village. Home to more ancient ruins. Would have liked to stay here longer.
- Train from there to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu
- Wake up nice and early (around 5:30) to line up and catch the bus up to Machu Picchu. We did not do the hike up and while I was sad about it ahead of time, it was totally ok. If you were doing the whole Inca trail that’s one thing, otherwise the people walking up by the road seemed miserable.
- 3 hour tour around the ruins. The tour guide talked too much for my liking, but I would just wander on my own. I enjoyed learning the history of MP, but there is so much unknown that I had a hard time believing some of the stories people say are true.
- Anyway, Machu Picchu is AMAZING! Seriously, worth the visit.
- Brunch and free time in Aguas Calientes. Honestly an underrated stop, the town is really pretty and has a waterfall and hot springs running down it. (side note: saw a sign for ‘towel and bathing suit rentals’ like nah, I would prefer not to wear a rented suit)
- Three hour train and hour ride back to Cusco, absolutely BEAUTIFUL ride
- Chill day in Cusco. Brunch at my favorite food spot we went to: Green Point. Vegan with lots of GF options.
- Wander on my own all around the streets, take in the views of the city. It’s surrounded by hills so any bit of climbing and you get a nice view. Made my way to Cristo Blanco, then back down.
- A special memory:
- Walked into a shop and got chatting with the shop owner who was making jewelry inside. It was just me and her, so I struck up a conversation (in Spanish!)
- She was 72, had grown kids and grandkids, lives 5 minutes from her shop downtown, had made everything in the store, and noted ‘lima is large and nice, but Cusco is small and beautiful’ (mind you, this is what I THINK she said based on my Spanish understanding)
- I was looking at her basket of handmade rings, she explained what each meant. I found one I loved, the top part is a spiral symbolizing Pachamama (mother earth) and the bottom part a symbol of love. The ones in the basket didn’t fit just right SO SHE MADE ME ONE on the spot. Incredible.
- I paid her, more than she asked for because man, she undersold, and she insisted on a hug. We embraced for ten seconds and I left practically in tears. I love travelling for these exact moments.
- A friend’s birthday dinner at Morena Peruvian Kitchen. A MUST eat in Cusco. Perfect place for our celebration.
- Humantay Lake Hike (booked through the hostel)! Get up at 3:30am, ride 3 hours (with breakfast in the middle) to the base of the hike. Honestly slept the entire way there.
- Hike up to the lake in a cloud, going much slower than normal so as not to let my heart rate go up too high. Meet and chat with lots of new people along the way!
- Arrive to a completely hidden lake in the clouds that soon clears to its blue. It was actually pretty cool to get excited as it was unveiled.
- Hike down along a waterfall/stream with a stunning view of the mountains. Finished with a HUGE headache but happy that I finally got to do a proper hike.
- Lunch before a long ride back.
- Worth it? If you have time, yes! Otherwise, I have seen similar and it was a lot of driving.
- Work from Qura Bowl café, another hit!
- Final strolls around the city before an evening flight back to Lima.
So yeah, Cusco was breathtaking in all ways. Minus the altitude effects, I really loved my week and wish I spent more time there this month.