After my El Salvador trip I arrived in beautiful Cusco, Peru – where I would be spending the next month and a half. As soon as I arrived and exited the small airport I was immediately impressed by the mountainous backdrop that surrounds this attractive city. Cusco is recognized as the historical capital of Peru. There is so much to see, do and eat in and around Cusco – I loved this place. It’s a very photogenic city that offers a lot to its millions of guests per year.
Coming to Cusco of course comes with a few drawbacks: altitude sickness, excess of tourists everywhere (especially around Machu Picchu), varying weather climate, pushy souvenir vendors and of course high tourist prices. The first of the drawbacks you’ll likely have to deal with is altitude sickness and its affects – dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation and abnormal breathing. There are a few things you can do to combat these symptoms such as avoiding alcohol, steady your breathing, drink plenty of water, drink coca tea and just take it easy for the first couple of days. You will really want to be in good health as there is so much to see and do and you won’t want to miss a thing. Cusco is elevated at 11,152 feet (3,399 meters), so depending on where you are coming from the affects will vary.
There is a lot of history in this beautiful city and it’s evident. The Spanish colonial architecture, the Inca culture found scattered throughout – but best of all is the picturesque Andes Mountains that surround Cusco. The best places to get a panoramic view of the city are at the ruins of Saqsaywaman (the locals jokingly pronounce it “sexy woman!”) and from the Cristo Blanco Statue.
Cusco is a beautiful place thanks to the Andes Mountains backdrop and the historical monuments and buildings scattered around town such as the Quoricancha Church, the twelve angle stone, the Pachacuti Statue, several cathedrals and the famous Plaza de Armas – make this town very memorable.
A few places I recommend visiting are the Museo Del Cafe and Choco Museo – admission is free of charge for the tours. You can sign up to do a two hour workshop at the Choco Museo: here. I also highly recommend going to the San Pedro Market for souvenirs; it’s a one stop shop for all the souvenirs and food options you’ll want during your stay in Cusco. There is an array of museums to choose from: Inka Museum, Pre-Columbian Art Museum, Museum Santa Catalina Monastery, Casa Concha Museum, Religious Art Museum, Regional Historical Museum, Quorikancha Site Museum, Contemporary Art Museum and the Popular Art Museum. Yep, there is a lot to do in Cusco. I went to a couple of these museums and would’ve loved to visit them all but I had a busy schedule as I was attending class for a TEFL Course everyday during the week and had a sightseeing tour booked each weekend.
Cusco throws a huge party every year to celebrate the winter solstice known as Inti Raymi, in Quechua, which means the “sun festival”, is held each year on June 24th. I arrived in Cusco during the first few days of the festival and was able to try some festive foods, and see the street parades leading to the closing ceremony held at the Saqsaywaman ruins. Inti Raymi celebrates the Inka new year for nine days with food, dance and a closing ceremony, it attracts hundreds of guests and it was an overall neat experience. There used to be a llama sacrifice to assure a fruitful cropping season, but that was dismissed a couple years prior.
The final celebration ceremony begins at Quoricancha and continues onto Plaza de Armas, and ends at Saqsaywaman where the re-enactment takes place and the crowds flock. Showing up early and dealing with the high volume crowd is the only way you will catch a glimpse of the procession. I was well prepared with sun block, camelbak hydration pack, snacks and a cheesy looking sun hat that got me through the day’s warm temperature. There is an option to outright pay for grandstand seats which costs $100 for cheap seats and $150 for the better seats. You can also hire a tour guide to enhance your experience. Since i’m a budget traveler I opted for going with a newly acquainted Peruvian friend and dealing with the crowds instead – I had a great time and am glad I got to experience this event.
Cusco is a wonderful place. It’s a travel hub for most people wanting to visit the world famous Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, Sacred Valley etc. – yet I think it’s a worthy travel site of its own. Happy travels!