How does it feel to live at 3500m above sea level?
Well, you’re often short of breath, the evenings are chilly and the vast city of Cusco is unbelievably remote, but…
The mountain air feels pure and clean (especially after Lima), the city itself is beautiful, with epic cathedrals and hilly cobbled streets and the locals are extremely welcoming to the huge mix of cultures who descend on this city due to its proximity to Machu Picchu.
We enjoyed a relaxed few days, acclimatising to the altitude in Cusco and planning our Andean adventure to Machu Picchu. We spent hours wandering the winding streets discovering little markets and craft sellers, cosmopolitan restaurants and ornate churches.
In total contrast to Lima, Cusco is totally focussed on the tourist industry, which is the life blood of this town. The city is so much more than just the starting point for a trip to Machu Picchu, though it is a good start, so I would really recommend enjoying a few days in Cusco because there is plenty of crisp, mountain charm to experience.
A great day in Cusco has to start either with some hot coffee from one of the many cafés or a fresh juice from the market – or both! Then the best way to see the city is on foot, make your way around the cute hilly streets and take a look at the various museums and market stalls that you’ll discover. You can look into planning your onward trip to Machu Picchu to, surrounding the main square are hundreds of little travel agencies who sell all sorts of trips from $50 for a day’s transport to $600+ epic week long trips. Finally, it is time to put on an extra layer as high altitude Cusco gets chilly at night and go for a drink at Paddy’s Irish Pub, the highest on the planet at 11156ft, which overlooks the Plaza de Armas, try to get a seat on the tiny balcony to get a great view of the sprawling city by night.
What to see and do:
Mercado Central de San Pedro – lively, colourful, full of food and local crafts and definitely worth a visit
Plaza de Armas – you can see the beautiful square, epic cathedral and local ladies in traditional dress with the cutest lambs and llamas – be careful though, you pay per picture so always ask first!
Another thing to take time to appreciate is the spectacular, sprawling mountain city by night – from the Plaza de Armas you can see how the city’s lights stretch up the surrounding mountains
Take the time to research and book the best Machu Picchu trip for you
Where to stay;
Dragonfly hostel – a mix of private and dorms (double about £12/night)
The location is unbeatable, right around the corner from all the main attractions, though it is pretty basic it has all the hostel features you would expect and a cute courtyard area. A nice touch too is that they also provide several thick alpaca blankets to keep you warm in bed – an essential!
How to get there;
Bus – full of backpacker spirit fresh from our arrival we booked onto a 24hr bus from Lima to Cusco. Despite the luxury of Cruz del Sur (make sure you take snacks, esp if you’re a veggie), even the endless films and enormous seats couldn’t salvage the journey from speedy Peruvian driving and the unbelievable winding mountain roads.
Plane – with a little research we found an Avianca flight (with 1 days’ notice) back to Lima – for virtually the same cost as our outward bus ticket. Granted the flight is pretty bumpy over the Andes* but when you cover that distance in just 50 minutes the choice is obvious.
*note: I am not at ease when flying, if I can do it on these small planes anyone can!
Where to eat:
Mercado Central de San Pedro – incredible fresh juices and worth a look around – keep an eye out for the enormous 10ft high piles of Coca leaves (for the local speciality coca tea, obviously… it is supposed to relieve altitude sickness too – tastes like a strong, earthy green tea).
Papachos – An incredible burger place that overlooks the stunning main square. We sat on a tiny little balcony, had a quinoa and broccoli burger with sweet potato fries (for me obvs…) and Rob devoured a veal burger and fries – washed down with a proper homemade lemonade – enormous portions, unfinishable, even for exhausted travelers who had been on a 24hr bus fast!
Pizza place – didn’t catch its name but its right on the Plaza de Armas – this cute little mock-Italian trattoria serves up pretty decent pizzas and salads, it seems to always be busy and even served us at 11pm after we got back late from Machu Picchu – simple, yummy and fairly cheap.
Big supermarket – opposite the Mercado Central de San Pedro – perfect stop to pick up supplies for a hostel cook-in and/or