When someone mentions Cusco do you think of an ancient Incan city nestled high in the mountains of Peru?
Or do you think of The Emperor's New Groove?
Based on our very unscientific study, at least in the U.S., for most people the latter comes to mind. We inevitably hear friends say, "Oh, Kuzco-topia!" And while the non-cartoon present day Cusco is much different than The Emperor's New Groove, it still holds tightly to its Incan traditions. The three days we spent there in November was the perfect amount of time to take in the city.
Most people spending time in Cusco do so with one thing in mind -- Machu Picchu -- the ancient ruins nestled high in the Peruvian peaks a few hours northwest of Cusco. Nicole and I were no different. We flew into Cusco from Lima and then immediately hired a car to take us to the Tamba Del Inka resort where we based ourselves to see Machu Picchu. Incidentally, this was one of the few times where we've had problems with Uber in foreign countries. The Uber driver who approached on foot outside the airport terminal calling "Nicole? Nicole?" told us to follow him to the car. So far, so good. But on the way he mentioned that we wouldn't be riding with him, but with his friend. Oh, and we'd need to cancel the ride we just booked on Uber and pay his friend in cash upfront. Hmmmm, no bueno senor. We headed back to the terminal. The next Uber ride we booked worked better. But the driver still asked us enroute to cancel the ride and pay him in cash to circumvent the commission Uber receives. We declined and it wasn't a big deal. The forty-five minute ride went off without a hitch.
As we've written previously, our subsequent trip to Machu Picchu couldn't have been better.
Afterwards, we headed back for our stay in Cusco.
First things first, the altitude is no joke. Cusco sits over 11,000 feet above sea level. Even with the few days we acclimated during our journey to Machu Picchu, we still weren't used to the altitude during our three days in the city. I had a mild headache the entire time and walking three flights of stairs to our hotel room left us out of breath.
We stayed at the Palacio Del Inka resort in the downtown area. A highlight! The stone building dates back nearly five centuries and is no doubt one of the best hotels in the city. We used points to book our stay but the rooms, which seem to go for between $150 and $200 per night, would be worth it for a splurge in my humble opinion. Very high end accomodation and the location can't be beat, within walking distance of most every place we wanted to go.
We had the good fortune of visiting Cusco during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic celebration and public holiday in Peru. Bands marched, the faithful carried blessed statutes on their shoulders through the streets, and fireworks exploded above the churches. We filmed the video below in the city's main square.
Earlier, my brother, an art history teacher, had provided us a few important landmarks to see. We treated these as a scavenger hunt (albeit not a very difficult one with the assistance of Google Maps). First stop, the famed 12 Angled Stone. This block of stone is a Peruvian cultural heritage piece due to the precise nature of the way the ancients carved the block to fit within the stonework architecture of a palace wall. If I'm being honest, although a crowd of local tourists huddled around the site snapping pictures, this didn't do much for us. Fun as part of our scavenger hunt, but I wouldn't recommend tourists going out of their way to see it.
Next up, we toured Cusco's main cathedral right off the central square. This church is famous, among other things, for its painting of The Last Supper where a guinea pig replaces the traditional bread on the table.
An impressive painting!
More fun was the festival procession bursting out of the church while we walked through. It was while the church's attendants rushed to see the festivities that I snapped this photo which may or may not have been permitted according to the rules.
Beyond this, what we enjoyed most about Cusco was simply walking around. It's a vibrant city full of enterprising locals and plenty of tourists. We sipped coffee at the second story Starbucks off the main center square each morning and then spent time wandering the streets. Lunches at Jack's Cafe, a tourist hot spot, were another highlight.
Our only Cusco complaint is that, as a tourist near the main square, you are approached and hounded endlessly by street hawkers to purchase paintings, trinkets, and other souvenirs. For us, it became a real turnoff and unfortunate blight on an otherwise great tourist destination.
As the pictures show, the Cusco-topia is a beautiful, bright and vibrant place. For us, three days was a perfect amount of time. A highlight of our time in Peru.
Like this post? Check out Thoughts And Reflections On Seven Weeks Of Touring Chile.
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