Traveling to Cusco, Peru
Although only a quick 55 minute flight from Lima, Cusco could have been 10,000 miles away and 500 years back in time to conquistador Spain. Immediately upon take off from the grey, dreary, hustle and bustle of Lima, you quickly come to realize just how mountainous Peru really is. The snow capped Andes are visible on both sides of the plane as you make a quick descent into the 9,000 feet high ancient city, appearing as though you are landing on a mountainside. Cusco International Airport could not be any more different from that of the hectic hub that is Lima. This sleepy town clearly has not quite entered this century, or the last.
A friendly fifteen minute taxi ride, ever upward as most is in this city, complete with a quick Quechua lesson (while Lima was shocking enough with most people only speaking Spanish, Cusco is a whole new level with many people only speaking this ancient language of the Incas) brought us to our wonderful little hostel on Calle Fierro. Niños Hotel is perched atop a hill on a nondescript side street with nothing but a small wooden sign indicating its location. Knocking on a large wooden door, the friendly front desk worker beckoned us into the tranquil paradise inside.
We arrived far too early, but our we were courteously greeted with Coca Tea and an amazing breakfast. The 9,000 feet of altitude got to us quickly, and a recovery nap was in order before we set out to explore the narrow, maze like streets of Cusco and all of its Spanish architecture atop Inca ruins.
Once rejuvenated, we set off (and down, foreshadowing of things to come, our hotel was of course near the top of Cusco) to explore the ancient city. It seems as if every block in Cusco has a lavishly constructed Spanish style church. Cusco, a town of 50,000, has an absurd amount of churches, and we later learned this was the Spanish colonists way of assimilation; each one is built on the foundations of an Inca structure, as Cusco was the original capital of the ancient civilization.
Having now been to Spain, you could have easily told me that we were in Granada or Malaga and I surely would have believed you. The evidence of Spanish influence (or conquest rather) was everywhere. From the winding, narrow cobbled streets, to the major plazas dotting the cityscape.
It’s easy to get lost in Cusco, with each turn seemingly bringing you to a whole new section of the city, and the matching Spanish architecture making it challenging to identify land marks. The only consistent thing was our labored breathing, as we were clearly not prepared for this jump to altitude. Although quite cool, we also didn’t realize the intensity of the sun, so sunscreen is a must even in cooler weather.
I recommend eating well and drinking a lot of water when exploring Cusco, it’s easy to get dehydrated in the dry heat of the altitude, plus altitude sickness is no fun. There’s no shortage of great food to be had, although not nearly as much seafood as Lima had to offer. The heartier fare of the mountains is much needed when trekking ever uphill.
In addition to being mindful of the exertion required at this altitude, I recommend giving yourself ample time if you plan to extensively explore Cusco. Walking the city is very doable, but it will not be as easy as anticipated. The altitude, the meandering streets, and the hills all require much more effort even for short trips.
If not ornately decorated in the Spanish style, the regular buildings of Cusco still had a Spanish flare with their white stucco and terra cotta roof tiles. Overall, the architecture was stunning, and the history felt rich and very much part of the lifestyle here. I really wish we had more time to spend here, as I feel as though we barely scratched the surface, but we still had a great time in our limited exploration.
All in all, we couldn’t enjoy Cusco as much as we wanted due to our limited stay there and our inability to cope with the altitude in such a short period of time, but the city was undeniably beautiful. By far the highlight of our stay here was the Niños Hotel!