We flew from Lima to Cuzco on Peruvian Airlines. The flight took around 1 hour and cost $230. We were there during the first week of July and stayed at my relative’s house. When we arrived to the airport there were many travel agencies advertising tours. We got a 2-day tour package and I think it cost less than S/200. They offered bus transportation and a guide in English and Spanish. If you go to Plaza de Armas you will also find many tour agencies that offer cheaper tours.
On the first day we took it slow and went straight to the house, had something to eat and rested. Acclimatizing to the altitude is a very important part of the trip. Most people recommend drinking Mate de Coca to fight altitude sickness. Later on the evening we went around Plaza de Armas, the main Plaza. There were many restaurants, bars, shops and mini markets. When you look around you will notice that most buildings in the downtown area have kept with their traditional facade. A mix of Incan fortification and colonial architecture.This is because the government doesn’t allow for modern architecture to be constructed in the downtown area to maintain the historic value of the place.
On the 2nd day we went on the tour. They picked us up around noon near the main plaza. I must add that punctuality is not a big virtue among Peruvians. We had to wait a little to be picked up and there was also some waiting on the bus while they were picking up other tourists. We had to buy the “Boleto Turistico“. With this ticket we could enter places like Ollantaytambo, Saqsayhuamán, Pisac, Qenqo, Pukapukara, Chinchero and Tambomachay. Also Tipón, Moray, Pikillacta, Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, Monumento Pachacutec, Museo de Arte Popular, Museo Historico Regional, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo and Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha are included but we didn’t go there. Everything in Cuzco has a range of prices depending if you are Peruvian, student or foreigner. The Boleto Turistico for Peruvians is S/ 70, for foreigners is S/130 and is only valid for 10 days. We had to pay an extra entrance for Qoricancha and it was S/ 3 student price.
This was our first destination. It was one of the most important temples in the Inca Empire where later the Spanish built Convent of Santo Domingo on top. Then we went to Saqsayhuamán which is a citadel on the outskirts of Cuzco. It is made all out of big stones. This is also where the Inti Raymi is celebrated. Then we headed to Tambomachay which is also known as the baths of the Inca. Receiving the name due to the aqueducts, canals and waterfalls in the area. Pukapukara, this fort made of large rocks is a site of military ruins. And finally Qenqo which it is believed to be a place where sacrifices and mummifications took place. I recommend to bring some mate de coca tea in a thermos since there will be long walks that can be more challenging due to high altitude. Facilities like bathrooms might be limited or overcrowded. There is always people on the side selling water, snacks and souvenirs. The traditional Choclo con queso is a MUST to try if you start to feel hungry. At the end of the tour a guy approached us with a picture of us walking earlier in the day at the city. He had taken a picture of us during the tour and now he was charging us S/10 for it. My husband was so surprised and amused by it that he ended up buying it. It is still a great memory token and makes us laugh every time we look at it.
That’s one thing I want to talk about here. Peruvians can be very creative and clever to find ways to make profit out of. Things that you wouldn’t even normally think about doing. Offering services that are so simple but yet no one would ever think about offering. So if you run into one of those things and you are amazed by it then make some effort and reward them for it. Nevertheless there is a lot of people selling things everywhere and they can get really aggressive and pushy and follow you around so if you are not interested in then be very clear about it. **FYI the flag on top of the cathedral is not the rainbow flag of the LGBT but the symbol used by Indigenous people to represent the Inca Empire.
On the 3rd day we headed to Aguas Calientes. To go from Cuzco to Machu Picchu you have to take the train. The train for Peruvians is S/10. But since my husband is a foreigner we used PeruRail which offers 4 different kinds of trains. There is Vistadome, Expedition, Belmond Hiram Bingham and Andean Explorer. We took the cheapest one which is Vistadome and paid $80. We were supposed to board at Poroy Station and take the train for 3 hours. But during that time it was heavy rain season and they were doing some maintenance on the rails. So instead of Poroy Station we had to go to Wanchaq Station, take the bus for 1 hour and a half and then transfer to the train for the rest of the journey. They offered some snacks and had traditional music on the train. Some people chose to trek the Inca Trail instead which is a 46km trek that takes 4 to 5 days.
When we arrived to Aguas Calientes we headed towards our Hotel. We got a Standard double room at Pacarama Hotel for $140. We were wondering if we should visit Machu Picchu that day or the next day. We were advised by the Hotel staff to go buy the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu on that day and visit on the next day to see the sunrise. Tickets to Machu Picchu are not sold at the place so you have to buy them at Aguas Calientes. The entrance is S/128 for foreigners and S/65 for Peruvians. Then we had some “llama meat” for lunch and went around exploring the little city.
The next day we started very early. We left our luggages at the front desk, had breakfast at 5 am which was included and then headed for the bus. Buses start going at 5:30am but by that time the lines were already huge and we waited for like an hour. The bus that goes up charges $18.5 round trip. At the entrance there are many guides offering their services but we decided to just go by ourselves since guides are usually rushing. The weather was a little chill and foggy at first. It had rained the night before but after the sunrise, the sun was up and shinning very strong. It was the best to go that early since there are less people and it’s perfect for pictures. Also around noon the sun will get really strong which will make it harder to trek around. It was amazing to just sit at the top of the mountain and see the sunrise. Then we took the bus down and headed for lunch.
After lunch we went to pick up our luggages and headed for the hot springs. The entrance to the hot springs were S/ 10. Outside they sold slippers, towels and swimming suits. The place had some facilities like changing rooms, bathrooms and a bar but they were not very nice. The water was also not very clean and we spotted a lady with her grandchildren shampooing their heads next to one of the fountains. After that we went for some snacks and shopping around the little market area between the town and the train station. Then we took the train and the bus back to Cuzco.
On the 5th day we continued with our tour very early in the morning. First to Pisac which is a village on the Sacred Valley. This village is know for its traditional handcraft market and is heavily visited by tourists. Urubamba is the largest town in the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo is also a main archaeological site. Also one of the most common starting points for the Inca Trail. Finally Chinchero is a district with mostly Indigenous descendants. There are very few who speak Spanish. We were taken to a local factory of alpaca wool and they taught us how to differentiate the real thing from the fake ones. We were also taken to a local community of 15 families that work together to make textiles and handcrafts. They explained us the process of dyeing wool and using natural elements for colors. There was a girl around high school age who had been chosen to be the spokesperson for this. She had memorized the whole speech in 4 languages. Spanish, English, French and German. And she would repeat one after the other one in the blink of an eye.
After the tour we went for dinner to CHICHA. A very famous restaurant fusion of modern and traditional cuisine run by a famous Peruvian chef. In my opinion the food was not that amazing as I had expected and of course it was overpriced. But I guess its a good place for tourists to experience Peruvian ingredients in not such a strong way. We had to book beforehand since it is always full.
On our last day we went around the city for some last shopping and then had lunch with my uncle. My husband had been wanting to try guinea pig (cuy) for a while so my uncle took us to the restaurant. (Picture in Previous Post) Then we went around more traditional markets. You can take pictures with baby llamas in front of Qoricancha and we also found the Twelve Angle Stone in Hatun Rumiyoc street which is also depicted in the cusqueña beer bottle.
There are many places to see in Cuzco that show traces of the Inca Empire. Many archaeological sites and sacred temples. But unfortunately if you don’t go with a guide to explain you the history behind it or have a book that describes the place, it will just look like a bunch of big rocks everywhere.
Peru is considered to be a very cheap country but because Cuzco is the main touristic area then prices have increased highly in the city. The whole city’s economy is based on tourism. There is always people around selling and offering different kinds of services and expecting tips. But compared to other countries, food and transportation is still considered quite cheap. Tips can range from S/ 5 to S/ 20 depending on the service being offered. Cuzco is full of tourists and I consider it to be pretty safe compared to Lima. We had no problem going around even at night and taking taxis around. Safe Travels!