The only way is up…at least in terms of altitude. We reached Cusco after an overnight bus from Arequipa. Our hostel was up a hill which was a challenge at 3399m (11,152ft) high. You have to take it quite slowly here. Thankfully I was over any altitude sickness I was feeling in Arequipa but sadly my body was not quite the fitness machine I was hoping it would be. I hate to walk slowly but I really had to try pace myself here or I was left stopping every 5 minutes on a hill, searching for some oxygen!
Cusco was the first place we went to that felt really touristy. It is the city the Inca’s used as their capital and is surrounded by lots of Inca history. It is also the base for getting to Machu Picchu from so unsurprisingly the centre was brimming with tourists of all ages from the world over, despite it being low season for Machu Picchu. The popularity was also reflected in the price of the attractions here which was noticeably more expensive than the rest of Peru. It was also the first place we really had people hassling us to buy things which was unbearable at some points. You couldn’t get anywhere without someone chasing you to buy their paintings, get you on a tour, get you to have lunch. Despite this, Cusco was great. We had some AMAZING food here and even better adventure.
Our first adventure took us to some of the Inca structures closest to Cusco: Qenko and Sacsayhuaman. Qenko is just a small, naturally occurring cave they believe mummification and sacrifice took place at, as within the cave is this cold, smooth flat piece of rock. It was interesting seeing an Inca structure that wasn’t grand but it didn’t have the wow-factor. There were some weird dolls hanging up on a tree here…no idea if this has meaning or significance, let me know in the comments if you do!
A short walk downhill took us to the much grander Sacsayhuaman. Sacsayhuaman is a huge site. It was apparently used as a fortress for military purposes but also as a site for rituals and it has these HUGE walls, built from hand-cut stone that fit together so perfectly you can’t fit a piece of paper between the gaps. Nobody knows the method of how they got the stones to precisely match each other. Either way I’d be impressed somebody building this now, let alone 800 years ago. We took a walk all around and there was a great view down into Cusco too.
The next day took us on an adventure to Pisac. We took a collectivo, which is a shared taxi/mini-bus. People just shout the destination in the street and you get on and wait for it to fill up. You share the cost, so it’s quite cheap. (Side fact: we got it from a place called Puputi Street and Puputi apparently means belly button in the Quechan language. You know that shit has become part of my daily vocabulary.) We went on a Sunday as we heard Pisac had a market on and we’re glad we did! It was so much fun just walking round and soaking it all in. I love the bowler hats and colourful material the ladies use to carry their children/shopping/everything in.
This is the one place on our entire trip I was gutted I didn’t have space for souvenirs. I mean it may be considered tourist souvenir junk and I won’t lie, you do see the same stuff all over Peru and also some similar things in Bolivia, but I just find Peruvian crafts to be colourful and interesting. So much is handmade and unique, it really felt a shame to leave with nothing. I wanted to get an alpaca rug for my dog to sleep on!
I’ll be honest…I also kind of regret not getting a terrible novelty t-shirt for bed. Alpacas/Adidas crossover, I’m looking at you. My boyfriend regretted not getting an Inka Kola t-shirt. I don’t think I got a photo of the drink on my camera so I googled and added one above. It is truly a Peruvian phenomenon. It’s made by coca-cola in Peru but it’s not really seen outside of the country. It’s a fizzy, BRIGHT NEON YELLOW, ultra-sugary drink that tastes kind of like bubblegum. I wasn’t really a fan but Jonny loved it. It’s not right. Nothing that colour can be right.
Anyway, back on tangent! We took a taxi to the top of the hill in Pisac and started our exploration. For people who were supposed to be very short, the Incas sure did love a steep step and a steep everything really. The site had these great, deep, incredible terraces and stone houses housing all stacked up, looking like it was a part of the rock face.
Further along the hill was a temple and this was built with perfectly carved, straight, neat stones. Everything was centred around this black rock which we knew was important but I actually wasn’t sure why until doing a bit more research while putting this post together! It was basically used almost as a calendar for them and the temple was perfectly aligned with the winter solstice sun! Unfortunately when you’re going around Peru there isn’t really information of historical importance at the various tourist sites which is a shame. There are guides, but we like the adventure of exploring ourselves and guides aren’t really on the budget when you’re on a three month trip sadly.
We continued through the ruins then walked back down to the town of Pisac on a trail which is unmarked, and you end up looking down ridiculous steep hills on tiny Inca steps wondering why these short people built such steep stairs! It was fun though. Compared to the ruins near Cusco there was practically nobody here so it felt like having the place to yourself to explore!
On our last day in Cusco, we went to Machu Picchu…but I’ll save that for the next post!
As always, if you stumble across this researching a trip to Peru, I’m happy to answer any questions. Don’t want to go too in depth in my posts as these are just stories rather than prescriptive information.