I think I might have said, “wow,” about 100 times while in Cusco. A beautiful city with an even more vibrant culture, rich history, and unique people, readily embraced. I speak so highly of Cusco and Peru as a whole as this place quickly stole a place in my Top 5 favorite destinations.
Dedicating 4 1/2 days to Cusco, my travel buddies and I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. From exploring the city via a walking tour, hiking Machu Picchu, taking cooking lessons, and of course, a little shopping.
We flew to Cusco, Peru after spending a few days loving Lima, via Latam Air. Suggested by locals as the best Peruvian airline in terms of low chances of cancellations/delays, customer service and, quality of planes (legroom), we decided to go for it. Latam Air was an additional $50-$60 dollars when comparing to other options such as Sky Airline or Viva. But we received priority boarding, coca tea, and snacks while in-flight and had no cancellations, so totally worth it. We booked via eDestinos.com.pe, which is a Peruvian based site similar to Expedia or Priceline. Despite eDestinos.com.pe having lackluster customer service, we were able to resolve any issues we did encounter and have a smooth flight.
While in Cusco we stayed in a charming boutique hotel, located right near the heart of the city, Illa Hotel. Perfectly decorated, gorgeous space, we were able to request a room with 3 beds, perfect for my two companions and me. The hotel arranged a roundtrip pick-up for us from the airport, free of charge. For the 4 nights, we paid a total of $498.22 and booked on Expedia.com. If visiting Cusco, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not booking your stay with my friends over at Illa. The hospitality is unmatched, the hotel is beautiful, clean, centrally located, and there’s an in-house restaurant. The restaurant served a delicious complimentary breakfast as well as a wide array of options for lunch and dinner.
To get around Cusco, we either walked, hailed a taxi and paid no more than $5-$10 USD per trip, or arranged a driver. I would recommend exploring this city by foot as the architecture is stunning, from the streets to the old Incan buildings. Cusco is the oldest city in the Americas, so it has a lot of rich history, and most of its story is told in the small alleys and ancient walls.
Day 1: Being a half-day, flying from Lima early this same morning, we decided to take it easy and acclimate to the change in altitude. After checking into our hotel, we ate dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, grabbed a few drinks and chatted with the staff for a few hours, before heading to bed.
Day 2: After a full breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we toured Cusco via a tour group, Free Walking Peru with the Blue Team, found HERE. I messaged them on Facebook to reserve a spot. Their FB page insists that reservations are required, but several people joined my group by just tagging along at the meeting spot, Plaza De Armas. The tour is free of charge with a requested donation at the end. This tour and Machu Picchu were highlights of my trip, by far. The Blue Team had us walking the streets of Cusco for a little over 2 hours, giving an in-depth history lesson, cultural tour, a tutorial on ceviche making, and a Pisco tasting. I’d recommend tipping between $20 and $30 soles for how robust these tour guides and their knowledge are. (Soles is the Peruvian currency, we exchanged at the airport/took money out of the atm). The tour took us through a series of markets that one complete, we circled back around to on our own. I purchased 4 sweaters to bring back home! The last stop of the walking tour is Limbus, which boasts as having the best views of the city and I’d have to agree. They also have really great food and drinks, we came back to this place for the sights and the grub!
This day we also ate at Pacha Papa, sooooo good, located approximately 5 minutes walking distance from the Plaza de Armas! As far as nightlife, went to Mama Africa in hopes of finding afro-beats, though we did not, it was still a good time.
Day 3: Again, indulging in the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we started our day with full bellies. I read about the San Pedro markets from several bloggers, so I led my crew there as our main destination of the day. Similar to large markets in other cities/countries, I would say I was underwhelmed with this one in particular. The smaller shops throughout the city had more options and better pricing. We did stop for food and drinks inside of San Pedro. I would say that this meal was more authentic than some of the other food options at the various restaurants in the highly populated tourist areas. After leaving San Pedro (about 10 min walk from Plaza de Armas), we toured more of the city. Aimlessly roaming the streets for a few hours until it was time for my tattoo appointment. Yes! I got a tattoo in Peru, in my hotel room. A friend of mine is an artist/tattoo artist and brought my mini-vision to life! In my saved Instagram stories (@fitflyflournoy), I list a few recommendations for getting a tattoo abroad!
Day 4: Machu Picchu! MP is so amazing that it deserved its own post, so please reference all of the details of our MP adventure HERE. As you will see when checking out this article, this was a full day, but totally worth all of it. Our entire trip to Peru was based on visiting Machu Picchu, and we have not one regret, in fact, Peru really stunned all of us.
If visiting Lima and Cusco definitely save your shopping for Cusco, we not only found that the quality was superior, but prices were significantly lower.
Things I wish we had time for? Cristo Blanco, essentially a gigantic statue of Jesus, overlooking the entire city of Cusco. We pretty much had time to do everything else we set out to do. But, by the time we would have been able to visit this site, it was dark, and our tour guide from the Blue Team told us not to visit at night.
The Peruvian currency is the Sol. 1 USD is approximately 3.29 sols. We exchanged USD while in Lima, at the airport kiosk as we surprisingly got a decent rate. In Cusco, I pulled money from the atm at the airport. I was able to use my Chase Sapphire card where cards were accepted and earn 3x points! Overall, Peru is an inexpensive country if you’re coming from a place like Europe or the United States. Daily we spent less than USD 50, not factoring in our hotels, for activities, food, and drinks, not counting Machu Picchu.
Watch Out: The elevation in Cusco is 11,152 ft, higher than most are probably used to. Why does this matter? High altitude tends to harm the human body. Effects can be seen starting anywhere from 4,912-6561ft, and with Cusco’s altitude more than doubling this, your chances of experiencing symptoms should not be taken lightly. When dealing with altitude, typically, the higher you ascend, the harder it is to breathe as the air gets “thinner” and leaves less oxygen for you to take in. This can lead to dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headache, vomiting, and even trouble sleeping. There is no telling who will be impacted by symptoms of altitude sickness or even how severely, even the most physically fit folks can be taken down. When visiting, the only symptoms I experienced were shortness of breath, but one of my friends actually had a constant headache the entire time we were there.
What can you do to help with the altitude? Symptoms typically do not last longer than 3 days, as your body begins to adjust to the change. But there are prescriptions that you can get from your doctor or pills that you can pick up while in Cusco. We opted for the latter, picking up Soroche pills at a local pharmacy in Cusco. Soroche is the term in Cusco for altitude sickness. We also took or drank the coca teas by boiling in hot water and drinking like green tea or chewing the leaves like gum. Coca leaves are the main ingredient for cocaine, but, they are nowhere near the street drug you may be thinking of. They are not addicting and are sold legally throughout Cusco. I drank coca tea day and night, about 3 cups a day, to prevent altitude sickness and again, did not experience any symptoms outside of being slightly fatigued.
Other suggestions to prevent or deal with altitude sickness include: relaxing/taking it easy, limiting alcohol intake and, laying off of heavy meals until you’re fully acclimated.
Love, love, love Cusco! Not many places that I would consider moving to, but I definitely look to Peru as one of my potential suitors for retirement.