Cusco is the main hub for tours of Machu Picchu, so I spent one day and one night in Cusco prior to my tour and then another day and night afterwards, all of which I will now discuss in this one post after going into detail about Machu Picchu in my previous post.
So, my bus from Arequipa arrived in Cusco at around 7am where I caught a taxi for 8 soles (£2) to my hostel – CuscoPackers – which was just on the outskirts of the old town up a small hill. Small, but in a town with a high altitude you could feel the affects just by climbing up the 20 or so steps to the top. I made it to my hostel around 7:30am where they kindly let me have a coffee from the breakfast despite not having stayed the night before, but as I couldn’t check in until around 11am I spent the next few hours researching into Inca trails/Macau Picchu treks. As mentioned in my Machu Picchu post, I settled the 4 day/3 night Jungle Trek for the following day with Inkas Destination as recommended by the hostel manager.
After checking into my room and having a shower, I set out to explore Cusco. Like many South American old towns, Cusco has a grid-like structure of mainly narrow, cobbled streets focused around a number of plazas, with more main roads leading off and away. Also like many other South American towns, there was a market – or a Mercado – housing all sorts of crafts as well as quick, cheap meals and drinks.
So I made my way towards San Pedro Market where I purchased a headband for my trek and my fridge magnet for Peru, before sitting down to devour Caldo de Cabeza for 8 soles. Directly translated this is Head Soup but it is always sheep head, so I tucked into a brothy soup that had a giant sheep’s head floating on the top, eye staring straight at me. Now lamb happens to be my favourite meat and whilst I enjoyed it, there was a slightly odd, pungent taste to the meat on the head (and the eyeball, which I dared to consume). I’d recommend trying it, but I doubt I will be going back for more.
I then went on an exploration of the town, weaving around San Francisco Plaza and the main Plaza de Armas before starting a slow uphill walk towards San Blas. On the way you walk down a narrow street with high, stoned walls known as “12 Angle Stone & Inka” (part of the palace of the sixth Inca, Rock).
After this point you have a few narrow streets to choose from in which to continue your ascent. I heard someone nearby mumble something about a Mirador nearby so, despite being slightly put off by the local Peruvian youths hanging around on the steps, I weaved left and began the uphill walk.
I could begin to see the view as I made my way up, struggling against the altitude the further I went, and after climbing 40 steep steps with my head reaching dizzy-breaking point, I made it to an open platform that offered panoramic views of the town with the glorious mountains as a backdrop.
On my way back to Plaza de Armas I took a left down loreto where Inca walls line both sides of the alley before heading to AV El Sol and making my way to the migracion office. Having cleverly lost my Peruvian migration card I needed to obtain a new one for being able to cross the border into Ecuador; at the migracion office I was given a receipt with an amount of 14.40 soles on it (£3.60) that I had to take to Banc de la Nacion, where I then had to queue and pay the amount to be issued with a ticket that I had to take back to the migracion office, where they then issued me with a new migracion card. Slightly convoluted, but it was sorted.
I then walked over to Qorikancha, an Inca site that forms the base of Iglesia de Santiago Domingo, where you lay 15 soles (£3.75) to enter. Personally I wasn’t that struck by this site, plus once you have gone to Machu Picchu it really really doesn’t compare, but the gardens surrounding the base were beautiful. As the sun was beginning to set I made my way out of the Inca Site and wandered back round the streets near San Francisco Plaza.
Here I picked up a takeaway Causa (a typical Peruvian potato pie dish of mashed potato layered with avocado and chicken mixed with mayonnaise, topped with an olive and half a boiled egg) as well as necessary snacks for my 4 day Jungle Trek, for which I was being picked up between 7 and 7:30 the following morning.
4 days later, at around 10pm, I arrived back at my hostel in Cusco after my Inca experience, absolutely shattered from all the walking, the altitude and the early mornings. After pottering and getting in contact with my family I hit the sack before waking up the following morning to have breakfast and check out. I first made my way to Cuzco’s cathedral, where I hadn’t come at the right time for a “tourist” visit but there was mass going on and I was allowed to enter, providing I was dressed appropriately and didn’t try to explore beyond the limits. The church was absolutely packed – with locals dedicated to their religion but also with curious tourists – and the inside was absolutely stunning; the marble/stone building, the spectacular artwork, and the lights and colours at e altar. What I was most moved by was when the choir started singing – I don’t think I have ever heard anything so beautiful in my life.
Afterwards I decided to head to the Choco Museo. Since travelling I have struggled to find chocolate that rivals the stuff we can get at home, and whilst I happily walk around the various chocolate museums or chocolate shops where you are entitled to free tastings I have never been that overwhelmed. This place was different. You could sample various pieces of chocolate (milk, dark, white, white coca), chocolate liquor (cream as well as normal, fruity as well as simple chocolate), chocolate spreads (fruits or nutty flavours), cocoa tea as well as the finale; freshly made hot Chocolate that was, without a doubt, the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. I went back approximately 15 times, no lie. I also got into a lovely conversation in the cafe area with a German couple whom had been living in Australia for 35 years – a wonderful thing about travelling.
Just like Lima, Arequipa and possibly many other parts of Peru (as with Colombia, etc) there are walking tours in Cusco and quite a few companies to choose from (Green, Red, Yellow, Blue…) In Cusco there is also the standard city tour as well as a tour of the Highlands, which I had booked for 12:50pm that day. However after my 4 day jungle trek (and the 2 day colca canyon trek not long before) I was done with walking, plus the guys I had met in Colca Canyon and then again in Machu Picchu were having a lunch before saying goodbye to Ed whom was getting a flight back to the UK, so in this instance I ditched the local culture in favour of spending time with friends before going off on my own once again to Bolivia. So we went for a classic Peruvian lunch of soup (I opted for asparagus) followed by seco de alpaca (alpaca stew, which was actually delicious – chunks of tasty, gamey alpaca as opposed to the flat, tasteless plancha I had in Aguas Calientes) accompanied by a glass of red wine for 20 soles (£5).
After waving goodbye to Ed we chilled at their hostel for a couple of hours before heading out to a bar, where I had my final Pisco sour on Peru while we ranked the Disney princes and princesses on order of hotness. Standard. I left around 8pm to go back to my hostel and pack before taking a taxi to the bus station for 10 soles in order to make my my 10:30pm Huayruru Tours bus. It would be taking me from Cusco, Peru, all the way to Copacabana, Bolivia, arriving at midday the following day for 65 soles (£16.25). I had sped through Peru and was really sad to say goodbye to these guys; it seems that the closer I get to going home that harder I am finding it to part from friends. But I was still excited to see what Bolivia had to offer…