I can’t begin to tell you how much I have fallen in love with the city of Cusco. Every element we have encountered during our four days here has just been wonderful.
We slowly got up Tuesday morning to repack before heading to the airport. That’s probably the worst thing about flying instead of using coaches: all airlines have different allowances for luggage. Some allow you two carry ons, some only one, the weights vary too so it makes it that teeny tiny bit more difficult. Anyway, we managed it, the bags on our backs being the heaviest they’ve been probably since we left home almost four months ago!
We booked an über again to take us to the airport which was a few miles away. Domestic flights allow you to check in closer to the flight time so it meant sitting on the terrazzo for an hour before we were allowed to check in at midday for our 14:40 flight. The airport was quite big, very clean and very quick check in and security clearances. For once, neither of us had to be searched nor did our luggage! The food court and the shops were situated before you go through security so we sat down and grabbed a slice of Papa Johns before heading through.
Gate six was our gate so we went there only for it to change to gate five. Just next door. There have been a few gate changes at the last couple of airports we’ve been to. Nothing drastic for us though. There we waited another short hour before we were called to board. We got on one of those cramped tram things that take you to the planes not important enough to sit next to the terminal. Off we got and entered through the front door only to find we were in row 20, one from the back. The best part was that the flight wasn’t even full! There were about seven flights to Cusco in an hour showing on the departure board and we were one of them.
As it got to five minutes before departure we had three seats to the two of us. It would make for a comfortable flight, plus I could have the window seat I’d been deprived off at check in. That’s my favourite part about online check in, choosing the seats and securing a window seat. Sadly this time we couldn’t check in online. The rows around us had one person in. So it was just our luck when as the last few stragglers boarded, one was to have the window seat in our row. I mean seriously, we must have had the only row that had three people in. We weren’t happy. He could have at least let us have the window seat, I mean he slept the whole bloody hour so the views were wasted on him!
Anyway, we were given a small cup of juice and a cereal bar on board and we landed after an hour. Our bags were first off the carousel so all that was left was to find a ride to our hostel. Swarms of taxi drivers were outside and we managed to haggle our way down by 5 soles to get one. Our hostel, Balcon Cusqueño, again was a few miles away but we got there in no time. It was well hidden on a steep hill on the rim of a plaza.
Cusco is situated at 3399m above sea level. Most people spend a few days here to acclimatise before heading out on the Inca trail where elevation can reach in excess of 4000m. The air is definitely thinner in Cusco and what probably makes it that bit worse is the amount of inclines as you walk about the town. We also had two flights of stairs to climb up to the reception of our hostel.
We checked in and were shown to our room which again had an ensuite and the bed was huge! It had two blankets, a sheet and a feather duvet. I think that should have given us an indication of how cold it might get. Great time for my long pjs to be in the wash. Not. After discovering the delicious bakery down the road in Lima, we set out to find one nearby. Down a few roads we located one called Talleres Qosqo Maki which sold the most delicious bread and croissants. Needless to say we got some for our dinner. Water was also needed so after a bit of exploring we headed back to our hostel to realise just how cold it could get as we stupidly left the two windows open. Whoops.
What a crappy nights sleep it was Tuesday night. Headache and stomach cramps as well as not being able to determine if I was too hot or cold made for a restless night. Once we eventually left the hostel, google had lied to us as it made it out to be cold outside so we wrapped up in jeans and jumpers only to find that in the sun, it’s delightfully warm. Not only did I feel like utter crap, that just intensified it. We wandered round for a bit, I downed about a gallon of water and we headed back to the hostel for a few minutes. Feeling better, this time I grabbed the camera and we headed back out.
Qurikancha used to be the most important temple in the Inca Empire.
The sky was blue, I changed into shorts and the town was simply stunning. Plaza de Armas was about five blocks from the hostel and is home to beautiful churches, a fountain, gorgeous flowers as well as balconied restaurants with a stunning view of the plaza, countless tour companies and the obligatory McDonald’s and KFC. No photos that we took do Cusco justice. I had fallen in love all over again. Yes my favourite place changes almost daily, but I truly think it would take something special to knock Cusco off the current top spot.
Cusco cathedral completed in 1654. It currently holds archaeological artefacts and relics. It was the first Christian church to be built here in Cusco.Minor Basilica de la Merced (the smaller building) and Iglesias de la Compania de Jesus are two stunning architectural buildings in the Plaza de Armas. Perhaps overshadowed by the cathedral but no less beautiful.
We found a cute little bistro which served me the most divine spaghetti carbonara and Nathan a chicken sandwich. It felt so good to eat something decent and not fast food. The square looked like it was being set up for something, probably for the weekend. There were painters dotted all over the grounds with tourists and locals admiring their work. Some were simply stunning. There were the usual police and others who would move on touts and shoe cleaners who weren’t allowed to do business in some areas. The streets were cobbled. The hills towered all around with houses on them. My words just can’t do this spectacular place justice. If one goes to Peru, you simply can’t miss Cusco out, even if you’re not venturing to Machu Picchu.
There was even an Irish pub. A short walk from the Plaza de Armas was Plaza San Francisco which had a fountain and benches in the middle and souvenir shops and restaurants round the outside. They even had a Choco Museo. We wandered in and out of all the shops perusing at Peruvian souvenirs and gifts, taking in the smells around us. We even got offered weed and magic mushrooms. I mean everyone was so unbelievably friendly. People were selling things everywhere and if they weren’t selling you something they were trying to entice you in to their restaurants. “No thank you” became a sentence that if I’d got paid a pound for every time I said it, I’d be a millionaire by now. Yet still, they were so friendly. They weren’t in your face, nor were they pushy.
We were approached by one guy who was selling paintings, which were amazing I will add. Some were his and some he sold for commission. He engaged in conversation with us about the meanings of the paintings and how if you look at a picture of Machu Picchu, you can see a face. It was so true! He told us of the snake and the puma in the wall a few streets down. Lots of the paintings had a puma, a snake and a condor in. These are known as the Incan Trinity. The snake, Uqhu Pacha represents the underworld, the human world, Kay Pacha is represented by the puma and the upper world of the Gods, represented by the condor, known as Hanan Pacha. The condor was the most sacred bird to the Incas. They believed that the condors took the souls of those passed to heaven on their wings. Pumas represented power and strength on the Earths surface and the snakes represented wisdom and knowledge. It is truly fascinating learning about Incan history.
Thursday saw us venture out again into the town where we sat in the square and people watched for a while. The views didn’t get boring. There were no painters out which was a bit odd as it made the plaza seem empty. After a delicious meal of pasta on Wednesday, we found a cute little pizzeria which served delicious stone baked pizza.
It was delicious. The service was a bit slow considering we were the only ones in there but we were in no rush and they had free postcards. Yay! In the evening, we were subjected to last years X Factor on the only English TV channel, followed by School of Rock. Considering I’d slept for nearly fourteen hours the night before, it was no surprise that I couldn’t fall asleep Thursday night.
The best day of exploration was saved for Friday. We were armed with all three camera lenses, the go pro and our sexy new daypack. Basically, we got lost. Lost in this beautiful city of cobbled streets and towering churches. We found roads we hadn’t encountered, plazas we hadn’t explored, souvenir shops we’d left unentered. We began in San Blas.
The San Blas plaza hosted a church an numerous stalls selling everything from key rings to alpaca wool gifts to miniature chess boards. There was a waterfall fountain at the back of the plaza and the flags of Peru and Cusco flying high. The best part of this plaza was that it was stumbled upon accidentally, after climbing up a stoney, steep hill that seemed never ending. Still, the view as we walked back down were great.
We ended up walking up and down this hill four times too as we found a couple of souvenir shops we liked half way up. After getting lost here, we found ourselves at the 12 angled stone.
Situated in the Archbishop of Cusco, this stone is part of a stone wall of an Inca Palace. It is considered a national heritage object and attracts many people taking photos. It was impossible to get one without others in it. Along this wall is where our painting seller friend told us about the puma and the snake. We bought a small painting from a different seller today and he told us that the stones were down here. For love nor money, I couldn’t see them. The snake and the puma are in the wall, the condor was sadly destroyed by an earthquake. After trying to visualise the animals, we moved on. A quick bite to eat and we were ready to continue exploring.
We found ourselves by Iglesia Santa Clara and then a bit further along was Iglesia San Pedro. We passed through an archway to get here and had a gorgeous view of San Francisco through it. Here we also found San Pedro market. It was huuuuuge, and sold everything.
All around the outside were souvenir stands crammed full with all sorts of gifts. Throughout the middle were stalls which had chefs cooking food for customers out in the open. There were butcheries and fish stands, which we realised as soon as the smell hit us. There was fresh fruit in abundance. Random jelly stalls. Flowers. You name it, you could find it here. We exited onto yet another different street and headed back towards San Francisco, after we had finally found our bearings.
The destination? Iglesia San Cristobal. The Incan archaeological site of Saqsaywaman is seen behind the church in the above photo. Clearly suckers for hill climbing in this beautiful city, we found ourselves climbing up 150 steps, at a pretty steep incline, to reach this church. We weren’t there for the church itself but for the most impressively stunning, beautiful, amazing view. The steps were so worth it.
We stayed up here for a while just taking in the view around us. There were even a couple of llamas at the top too. It’s safe to say, that climbing those 150 steps was the first time I had actually worked up a sweat here in Cusco. Once we’d finished taking in the beauty around us, we headed back down the way we came and as we reached Plaza de Armas, we heard music and cheering. A parade!!!!
We sat on the steps outside the cathedral and watched the parade in front of us. There were flags flow, brightly coloured outfits, bells on the boots of dancers. There were young little angels and middle aged men dancing to the beat of drums and other instruments. About half way there were eight men carrying a statue of Santa Rosa, almost like pall bearers would for a coffin. We had no idea what the parade was about other than it was entertaining. People snapping photos everywhere, typical tourists getting in the way and flags flying saying ‘Santa Rosa 90 years.’ I will endeavour to find out what the parade was about. They went all through the Plaza de Armas, into San Francisco and then down the Main Street.
We wanted to seek out a couple of the souvenir shops we found earlier in the day, so headed ha others as the sun began to set. We also got supplies from one of the many market shops for our Inca Jungle Trek for the next four days. Cereal bars, water and Gatorade. That should keep us going!
Cusco is just simply stunning no matter what the time of day. The temperature had plummeted as the sun had set and me being the usual idiot I am, only had shorts on. It must have been cold if I was cold. We had our briefing for our upcoming Inca Jungle Trek at 630pm at the Millhouse Hostel so we headed there. Stupidly, despite being cold I ended up sitting on a cold concrete seat, instead of one with a nice cushion. I moved half way through the briefing. Armed with all the information we needed, and our route, we headed back to our own hostel to pack up our lives for the next four days.
Cusco, you have been truly amazing. Speak to you all next week…
Until next time…