Chillin in Cusco, Peru

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.

One of the streets we walked frequently
One of the streets we walked frequently

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.

 

The only drawback we experienced was the obvious touristy-ness of it all. Everywhere we went we were inundated with people trying to sell us things, pushing massages, or trying to get us into their restaurant. We wanted to respect the town and it’s people’s livelihood, but the constant barrage of pressure to buy stuff was exhausting and left me longing for a city where we could blend in.

 

The road the Jack's
The road the Jack’s

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.

In the end, we went with a small shop near our hostel called “Cheap Peru”. They were the cheapest at $230/pp for the trek, plus an extra $20 for sleeping bag rental and Huaynapicchu. More about the trek itself in our next post!

 

Getting There

 

This was by far the worst bus ride I’ve ever been on, and the low point of our trip. It was an entire night of hair-pin turns up and down mountains at crazy elevations. For most of the ride our bus was either on the wrong side of the road or fully in both lanes. A couple quick honks before corners was our driver’s way of avoiding a head-on collision. This was all made worse by a couple issues that anyone else doing the trip will hopefully avoid:

 

We boarded the bus about 24 hours after The Grape Incident, and our symptoms were in full swing. And bus bathrooms are not where you want to be spending your night, especially given road conditions. Bus toilets require a delicate balancing act to follow the Don’t Touch Anything, Ever rule (DTAE, for short). The mountainous roads made this about as challenging as drinking a cup of tea while riding a bull.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.

 

Not a bad view at 90km/hr, 10,000+ft above sea level
Not a bad view at 90km/hr, 10,000+ft above sea level

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.

 

Stay

 

We spent our time in Cusco at Mama Simona’s, a cute hostel a short walk from the center of town. At $34 a night for a private room with private bath it was a fantastic deal. The staff were super helpful, the atmosphere was really chill, we were able to use the kitchen to cook dinner at night, and it included breakfast. Total win!

 

See / Do

 

Nothing says tourist more than this photo... But who can resist baby Alpaca?
Nothing says tourist more than this photo… But who can resist baby Alpaca?

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.

 

Eat / Drink

 

Given our experience in Ica we weren’t feeling very adventurous with food by the time we arrived in Cusco. There was, however, one highlights. Jacks was a small-ish cafe recommended to us by another guy at our hostel and it was an amazing find. The food clearly catered to tourists, but after two solid months of travel it was amazingly wonderful just to be able to order a really good sandwich. Their all-day breakfast looked equally tempting.

 

We mostly passed on the drinking in Cusco. Not knowing how we’d do with it at such a high altitude we decided to play it safe and opted for lots of water instead.

 

Lessons & Tips

 

  • 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.
Current Location: La Paloma, Uruguay

 

More photos from Cusco:
The Inca
The Inca
One of three Churches on the Plaza de Armans
One of three Churches on the Plaza de Armans
There more 25 churches in the historic neighborhood of Cusco
There more 25 churches in the historic neighborhood of Cusco
Cathedral de San Francisco
Cathedral de San Francisco
Three churches one shot
Three churches one shot
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