Arriving in Cusco I immediately noticed the thin air. With an altitude of 3400 metres it’s easy to spot the newbies in town – we all walked up the hills (and trust me this town has some short but steep inclines) panting and needing to stop every few meters. At times I felt like a 95 year old who’d just done an aerobics class. I was unlucky enough to suffer altitude sickness for a few days, but at least I was only horizontal in bed for one day. As a starting point for treks, It’s recommend for those doing the Machu Picchu climb to give yourself at least two days in Cusco first to adjust to the high altitude.
Many people only visit Cusco as an entry point to Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley and the smaller surrounding towns. The small city centre is where all the visitors stay. Being an entry and exit point for trekkers the town buzzes with the excitement for those who are about to head off on their adventure, or who have just come back. With stunning stonemasonry (like what most people recognise about Machu Picchu) buildings it has been important that the city remain fairly unchanged, as it is now World Heritage Site. I found it easy to lose myself exploring the many beautiful (and very narrow) cobblestoned streets around the city. Which is made even more interesting as you are often sandwiched up against the walls alongside locals trying to avoid your toes getting run over by a car.
For me it turned into a daily challenge to see how many people I could skim past and jump back up onto the footpath (I use the term footpath very loosely – more like a thin path of cobblestones) before the next stream of cars come up the road.
I found a few good foodie destinations tucked away in the backstreets. For a casual meal my favourite was Green Point Vegan. Fellow carnivores do not avoid this place, you won’t be disappointed. The price, serving sizes and quality of the food is amazing (it’s often challenging to find this combination in Cusco). I had the vegetable korma served with rice, roti bread and Brazil nut butter. They also use Brazil nut milk in their smoothies and porridge. They do an impressive 3 course-rotating menu each day which is worth a try. Cicciolina Tapas Bar restaurant is my other pick for the quality of the food and variety. Tapas only make up a small portion of the menu. I was so impressed by their glazed lamb shank that I came back the next day for the lunch and had an amazing roasted beef gourmet sandwich, which was worth the second visit.
For me the whole city had a very special feel and I felt connected to its spiritual energy, which was the perfect compliment to my visit to Machu Picchu. Maybe it is because the Inca people who are Indigenous to the area are strongly connected to the land and believe that the forces of nature drive their way of life. I felt really lucky that I could feel this and since leaving Peru have felt so enriched by this energy.
I had high expectations for my visit to Machu Picchu after my time in Cusco and in some ways was not disappointed. However, while it was an impressive site, having so many other tourists there at one time (all trying to get the perfect selfie) did take away from my own personal experience. But rest assured you can always find a lot of breathtaking postcard moments. For keen trekkers it’s well worth doing the Inca Trail trek or getting there early to take in the sunrise and feel the energy of the site before the busloads of tourists arrive.
My next post will be on Cartagena, Colombia where I enjoyed the famous sunsets and continued to indulge in cheap (and tasty) South America beer. My Instagram account ‘Belindaness’ has pictures of all the other places I visit to share my experiences.