Our last stop in Peru was Cusco, homebase for our 5-day trek to Manchu Picchu via the Salkantay Trail. We booked 4 nights in Cusco so that we would have time to find and book our tour and adjust to the altitude before we needed to start hiking. It also gave us a much needed chance to recover from the Grape Incident of Ica.
Cusco ended up being a really cute destination in itself and quickly earned a spot as our favorite little city in South America. The picturesque cobblestone streets and colonial architecture are situated in the middle of a valley surrounded by the lush, green Andes Mountains. The two main squares are great for relaxing and people watching: parks surrounded by ornate churches, shops, and restaurants.
We spent our first 24 hours talking to tour companies and getting everything set for our trek. Prior to arriving in Cusco Kyle had done a bunch of research and even reached out to (and almost booked with) one company. Happily, our procrastination was rewarded — we quickly learned that prices were about 50% cheaper in-person than from the online agencies. There was of course some risk involved as you have basically no idea what you’re getting into. All of the agencies gave the same scripted speech, and two even showed us the exact same photo, of a group they had “personally” taken on the trek. Hmm.
- We boarded the bus about 24 hours after The Grape Incident, and bus bathrooms are not where you want to be spending your night. They require a delicate balancing act to follow the Don’t Touch Anything, Ever rule. Not an easy task when speeding around twisty mountain roads.
- I was so pre-occupied by everything else, that I hadn’t thought much about the bus ride itself and mistakenly packed my dramamine in my under-the-bus pack. You don’t fully appreciate this stuff until you go without…
- The much lauded Cruz del Sur buses turned out to be a big disappointment. From the rave reviews online we were expecting more of the fully-reclining seats from our CIVA journey, along with delicious food, and good TV. No, no, and…no.
Somehow, we made it through the night and were rewarded in the morning with gorgeous views of the Andes mountains and glimpses at the small local villages that dotted the hillsides. It almost made it worth it. Almost.
The city itself is so cute that we spent most of our time just walking around, checking out the plazas, churches, and markets, and wandering some of the side streets. There are local people selling goods anywhere, so if you love shopping and haggling you can find some great deals on alpaca (or “alpaca”) wool anything.
- The altitude is no joke! Taking the bus in helped us to adjust gradually without the shock that others who flew into Cusco described, and we didn’t need the Diamox we had brought with us. However, if you don’t slow your pace you’ll quickly find yourself out of breath after walking just a couple blocks, or climbing a flight of stairs.
- If you’re going to bus it to Cusco be prepared for a long night of very winding roads. The views are great, but motion-sick travelers may want to think twice.