Cusco is the city that takes your breath away–literally. At over 11,000 feet,the elevation takes some getting used to but most people don’t stick around for more than 24 hours on route to Machu Picchu.
I based myself out of Cusco for three of my five nights and it was a beautiful city. Tucked away in the Andes mountains with charming colonial architecture, it’s no wonder UNESCO named the city a World Heritage Site.
The flight from Lima to Cusco is an hour and a half and only leave throughout the morning and day as Cusco’s airport closes at 5:30pm. I took the first flight in, at 6am, and am glad I did since it allowed me a full day to get acclimated to Cusco. The view from the airplane was already impressive–featuring mountains instead of clouds.
You’ll be bombarded with a ton of taxi drivers upon leaving the airport. Thankfully, my B&B provided transportation. Try to stay in the downtown area if possible. I stayed in San Blas and felt close to everything, yet far enough away that I could retreat at the end of the day.
Immediately upon arriving I was greeted with a cup of hot coca tea. It helped curb any headaches and I took a quick nap before going for a walk.
Once I was ready, I went to explore the town, and boy was there a lot to see! Cusco is a bustling city filled with incredible artists selling their art on every corner, and women selling you world-class textiles at bargain prices. It can all be a bit overwhelming so take your time and peruse–there is no rush. The vendors will all be there later, they stay out until sunset.
That said, buy something. There is AMAZING artwork in Peru, here are just two of the paintings I purchased. Other popular souvenirs include silver jewelry and alpaca clothing.
You can take pictures with llamas for a small donation, at your discretion. There will be plenty of opportunity to do this.
Don’t forget to take a picture with the 12 sided stone! Also, around the corner you can look for the shape of the condor, puma and the snake on this ancient wall. All three are important in Incan culture and will be pointed out to you by a friendly local if you just ask.
As far as food, your options are limitless. There is so much good street food everywhere you have your choice! Those with gentler stomaches will find plenty of restaurants along the main square. Also generally, stick to bottled water here.
In and around the main square, Plaza de Armas, you have your choice of attractions, including the Convento de Santo Domingo and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum. You can also spend some time visiting the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins for a picture perfect view of the city.
However, the real star of your visit (pun intended) is the Cusco Planetarium. Here, you can see Jupiter through a telescope and learn the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations, which are completely different from the North’s. They provide transportation, a lesson inside their homemade and incredibly impressive planetarium (this is a family-run operation) and they even have blankets available for chilly nights. It’ll be an evening to remember!
Don’t overlook Cusco. It has a lot to offer any traveler, whether staying for a while or just passing through.
Till next time, safe travels!