Cusco is a city in southeastern Perú near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. Located in this region is Machu Picchu, an Inca site located 7,970 ft above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. In 2007, it was chosen as one of the New7Wonders of the World. I am so happy to say I was just there a few days ago and I was mesmerized. Aside from the endless picture taking, I did manage to get a lot of “taking it all in” moments.
My flight to Lima
First is first and my journey there was quite an adventure. My flight got to Lima at 11:00pm and I had to wait four hours for my flight to Cusco. I had googled where I could fall asleep in the airport during that time. I found this great site, The guide to sleeping in airports, that gave me the information I needed. Most of the reviews kept saying to go to Starbucks and hang out there because it was opened 24-hours but the cafe right across from it 4D Gelatería Italiana was just as good, I think even better. I ordered a chicken mushroom empanada and a strawberry smoothie. The service was quick and I got wifi! I kept my things really close to me and I dozed off. I ended up falling asleep with my head on the table. I was interrupted with the noise of the waiters moving tables and chairs for cleaning. I am glad I woke up on my own before they had to wake me up themselves and ask me to move. I got my things and walked around the airport 2nd upstairs level to see if I could find the sleeping area the website was talking about. I saw a few people asleep on the floor using their bags as pillows and a few others just leaning against the walls through a corridor leading up to the security entrance. I honestly did not want to be that person and I went back to the cafe and sat at another table in another area and ended up putting my head on my crossed arms and fell asleep, but not before setting my alarm on my phone. I was incredibly tired but I managed to wake up on my own, on time and went to my gate. I fell asleep the whole way to Cusco from Lima-about one hour and twenty minute flight. Once I got there I hired a cab to take me to Intro Hostel Cusco. I knew they charged $25 soles for transportation but I did not contact them early enough to arrange it. A ride from the airport to the hostel ended up costing me $30 soles-the equivalent of almost $10 US. Note to self and to everybody, if you walk just five minutes out to the big street away from the airport, the cost is less than fifty percent off for cabs. If I would have known the cab fare would have been just about $3 US (huge sigh). I got to the hostel and met with my friends, who were waiting for me there.
Intro Hostel Cusco
I fell asleep for a few hours and I was awakened by my friend who brought me breakfast in bed (awwweee)! They serve free breakfast from 0600-1000: bread, jam and coffee. For $14 US a night, I’ll take it! I got up to get ready in the shared-female bathroom and I suddenly felt really dizzy, faint and with an unbelievable lack of oxygen. I placed both my hands against the sink while hunched over and started taking deep breaths. Once I recovered for a bit, I started putting my eye liner on (because I had to look cute while exploring Cusco). You cannot have imagined the amount of concentration that took. I had to pause several times just to wrap my head around my task at hand. I thought I was going to pass out and so grabbed my things and rushed straight to bed. I told the girls I could not make it and that I needed to rest. I thought it was due to my lack of sleep but they quickly reminded me it was due to the altitude, 11,150 ft above sea level, oi vey. I decided to stick it out and finished getting ready to take the town. My friends and I quickly went to a pharmacy to get altitude sickness pills. The most common pill purchased is called the Acetazolamide (diamox), most typically known as “soroche pill”. I bought two and each pill was $2.50 soles each. Most sites recommend keeping it low key the first few days, minimal activity and to drink lots of water. Time is what I did not have! My group booked a city tour right when I got there (I know). The city tour cost $20 soles, however we had to pay an extra $10 soles to get into Coricancha and an extra $70 soles to get into the other temples. I guess the $20 soles covered transportation. All the articles I read about Cusco and its altitude kept reiterating to drink lots of water. It is so easy to say but when bathrooms are not readily available to you, it is a whole other story. I missed out on two city sites because of my ill symptoms. I stayed inside the bus and met people from other places. I love meeting new people so that was fun.
City Center-Plaza de Armas
The city center in Cusco was simply amazing. Locals and tourists alike were all over the place. I could tell that tourists probably loved it so much they ended up staying because there were a few that were waiters or guides themselves. The Spanish conquistadors constructed La Compañia and the Cathedral right in Plaza de Armas, what used to be known as “the navel of the world”. Right in the center was a water fountain located where youth were found playing around and splashing water at each other. Restaurants were located around the plaza as well as local ethnic shops and money-exchange houses. My friends and I stopped in a local restaurant that served pasta and traditional Peruvian cuisine called Incanto located on Sta Catalina Angosta. We ordered ceviche, lomo saltado, shrimp pasta, pisco sours, local beer and inca cola. Everything looked so appetizing and was delicious. The restaurant has a traditional clay oven right in the center where they cook their delicious pizzas and pastas.
Cusco City Tour
The city tour we booked with the hostel consisted of touring Coricancha (golden courtyard), the Incas sumptuous Temple of Sun before the Spaniards came along. The cavernous Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas was where the Incas managed to weave their own culture into the church as they undertook some work for their new Spanish masters. Saqsaywaman was built with large stones known as temple of lightning and has an impressive view over Cusco City. Qenqo, a religious place of the Incas was where they made their sacrifices, then Tambomachay temple of the Water, was where the Incas purified the spirit with energetic holy water. I was able to make it to Coricancha and Saqsaywaman while nearly passing out in the latter. I am such a bad tourist, I could not stop taking pictures at each location and did not pay much attention to the guide. We hardly had any free time and again having to concentrate was really hard because of the altitude. Every time I stood still and focused on the guide I would start feeling faint and I had to move about to keep my energy running. It is a real shame I could not attend the last two city sites but the altitude sickness really kept me from enjoying the day. I was in Perú for a quick three days. I definitely did not have time to adjust the way I should. After getting dropped off from the city tour, my friends and I went to two local spots to snack. We found this very small cheap place a block away from the hostel where we ordered nachos, salchipapas, fries, pisco sours and gaseosas (cokes). As if we did not have enough to eat, we proceeded to go to the next local food joint and ended up at a pizzeria. I honestly do not know why we did that since we did not end up finishing our food. Nevertheless, the joint had wifi and we got to share some good snapchats from there, because that’s all that matters. Right?
On the Road to Machu Picchu
My friend Maria purchased our Peru Rail tickets through perurail.com for $134 US. The breakdown was $86 going to Machu Picchu from Cusco and $48 US from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo (mid-way point). We chose the Vistadome option. First we boarded a bus where they provided water for all of us and then we got to the train station to board towards Machu Picchu. The layout was 2-2, wood tables folded out for meals and all seats provided a view, even skylight views. Riding along the Urubamba River, which seemed was mad at the world that day, was spectacular to see. We got served water, coffee and beverages, and a breaky that consisted of pastry and fruits. We took lots of pictures and our electronics’ batteries did drain a little so do not go crazy. There are no outlets to charge anything. The bathrooms were also very nicely maintained. The train did stop at the midway point of Ollantaytambo town where more passengers got on. When we got to the Machu Picchu/Aguascalientes station we automatically were able to see our hotel along the railroad.
We stayed at Flower House Hostel in Aguas Calientes, Perú. It is located a few meters from the train station. We had a small hiccup when we got there, my friend booked two rooms through Travelocity and indicated one room would have two occupants and the other three. The hotel was not having that. She showed the owner the receipt and printed paperwork with such information. He honored it and they put an extra bed in our room. I mean they literally brought a whole other bed into our room and then put the pieces together. I thought that spoke very highly of their great customer service. Needless to say, we had a great nights sleep.
Machu Picchu. Ready…Set…Let’s get our breath taken away!
We started our adventure at around nine in the morning. That was not originally planned but we were exhausted and three girls using only one bathroom, well you do the math. We walked over to the office of tourism to pay for Machu Picchu entrance where we paid $128 soles, the equivalent of $41 US. Since we did not want to walk over two hours up to the mountain, we decided to take a bus up there and paid a round trip fare of $26 US. You must be thinking, what a bunch of lazy etc…, well let me remind you that we had only been in Perú for two days and even though the altitude is far less in Machu Picchu then in Cusco, it still had an effect on us. That is my reasoning and I am sticking to it. Make sure you take something to eat and lots of water. It did start to rain a bit and we knew and were ready for it but that did not stop the view from being breathtakingly beautiful. We got to the entrance area and made sure we stamped our passports with the Machu Picchu stamp (so cool!). Okay so this was it, we were about to be front row and see one of the Wonders of the World for the first time.
I want to say we took it all in for a good ten minutes at least but I would be lying. We started taking pictures like crazy, because you know, social media craze. Such bad travelers too I tell you. We had our DSLRs going, our iPhones and GoPros, it seemed like every shot was going to offer something different, every change of pose was going to be a good collage or every video recorded was going to make the best movie clip. Guilty, guilty and GUILTY! We did continue to walk up and soon learned about an even better view. How is that possible? Yes better view; however, that meant a “thirty minute walk”. Thirty minute walk my…That walk turned out to be almost fifty minutes hiking up! Every ten minutes we would ask someone, “almost there?” Shameless. Finally got up to Intipunku (Sun Gate), a small fortress high on the ridge overlooking both sides of the valley. This ascent is the last stage of the Inca Trail. Basically, we completed the last stage of the Inca Trail but we skipped the beginning and the middle part. I climbed the tallest part of the ruins at Itipunku just to say that I climbed to the top (that is my little sense of achievement). That is where we really took it all in. We could see everything from there, Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, the winding roads that looked so perfectly paved on the mountain and the Urubamba River. We stayed a good forty minutes admiring everything. We were very proud of ourselves for making it up there with very little water and no food (BIG MISTAKE!). PLEASE TAKE WATER AND FOOD! We could have a had our own little picnic up there. As the time came close to leaving I was dreading the hike down but that turned out to be only thirty-five minutes. No sweat. We walked through the temples in Machu Picchu and could not miss the opportunity to take pictures with the lamas. I really thought one was going to throw a side kick and throw me off the ledge or even bight my nose off (that would have actually been a favor), but they did not thank goodness. We continued exploring and took heaps of pictures, I think enough to break iCloud.
Machu Picchu has a strict carrying capacity of 2,500 people per day. All of the site is spotless, polished, very well maintained. It is said by the Ministry of Culture in Cusco that a stricter policy will be in place for tourists to continue to visit the Historic Sanctuary. You can find the link to the article here. I feel it is important to maintain Machu Picchu as beautiful as it is. I came to the site in the off-season, so I guess I am pretty lucky I got to spend all the time I wanted wherever I wanted. I did not feel rushed or pressured by any means.
If it were not for the time constraint of this trip, I would have done the Inca Trail hike. Now that would have been an experience for the books. I was watching the hikers while we were inside the train. They had their bandanas tied around their heads, their back packs, sleeping bags, ethnic bags and Alpaca sweaters. As I was looking at them I could not help but feel envious of their odyssey. Next time ay (sigh)! When the time came to board the bus to go back down to Aguascalientes, I felt a bit melancholic. My whole purpose of this trip was Machu Picchu and now I was leaving it. I made sure I looked at everything on my way down. I was not taking any pictures; I was paying attention to the winding road, the river, the hikers, mother nature, etc.
Back to Aguascalientes
We were starving and when we got to Aguascalientes we sat in the balcony area of one of the many restaurants that was being promoted by their staff to eat at theirs. They all seemed to charge a service fee just to sit so make sure you ask if they have that fee when you go. I ordered a perfect combo: soup, lomo saltado, dessert and a drink for only $7 US. You have to negotiate. The only reason I knew about it was because I saw my train buddy across the restaurant and he told me about the special deal they offered tourists. The deal was not in the menu but I asked and it was given to me. Score! My friends were not that lucky and the food was a bit pricey but hey, you are in Machu Picchu once in your life right.
Those of you who have not been to Perú, well let me tell ya. Alpaca is one of the largest, finest, luxurious fibers in Perú. You can buy almost anything made out of Alpaca: skirts, coats, jackets, socks, etc. It is the largest textile sold yes, that is why you have to be careful how you select your Alpaca. I have referenced a great link here for tips on how to select your Alpaca products. Walking back to our hotel we came upon the Aguascalientes Marketplace and talk about it being the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of Alpaca. I trust that the things sold here were at least half baby Alpaca and old Alpaca. They were definitely less than what they would have cost at a shop in Cusco’s city center. I had already been to other countries not too long ago before visiting Perú and the only one I had left to buy something for was my mom. I asked her what she wanted and she asked for a key chain. Thanks mom! The girls were buying and bargaining and getting engaged (you had to be there). I took several pictures of the marketplace and got lost in the labyrinth of souvenir stands. I thoroughly admired the abundance of female shop owners here. It was very uplifting for me to witness. After a good dose of inspiration, I headed back to my room and got ready for a very long day the next day.
Back to reality
We had to go to bed early because our train ride departure back to Ollantaytambo was scheduled for 05:45 in the morning. This was no vacation. A trip like this is a lot of work. I vowed to get my real vacation soon. This ride back was only half-way and there were a lot of drivers trying to get hired to take you back to Cusco. Our problem was always the space of the vehicle since we were five girls plus bags and why not, also maybe an oversized toiletry bag. I had read about this and trusted the man we hired to take us back. The total cost was only $30 US all the way to the airport. The girls were so appreciative that I knew Spanish. I love being fluent in two languages and am happy to help when I go to México or South American countries with my non Spanish speaking friends. Note: knowing Spanish to travel to these locations is not necessary. Almost everyone knows English now, if they do not, then give sign language a fling. The ride back was around an hour and the driver pointed out scenic points to us, gave us awesome facts and history about Perú and the area. The landscape was opulent. It was rich in green pastures, views of distant isolated homes, daffodils and mountain ranges. It reminded me so much of Tyrol, Austria. I did not want to blink for #fomo (fear of missing out)!
I, unlike my friends had to come back home. I could not believe I was going to be missing out on Huacachina, dune buggies and sand boarding. I will provide pictures of that, no worries. You deserve to see this beautiful spot. Perú is definitely a place I would visit again. I always tell myself I do not like to double dip but I do have to come back and visit Huacachina and Titicaca Lake. Machu Picchu is a must see destination. If it is not part of your bucket list right now, it should. It is a place for all ages, all levels of fitness and all levels of adventure.
I really hope you enjoyed this read and found it informative. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Coming up next is my trip to Spain so please stay tuned for that article. Besos. ❀
❝To Ella, Sara, Maria and Donna. Thank you for a fabulous time ♡.❞