As the historic capital of Peru, and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Cusco is a great place to start an adventure. Staying in a hostal or just having a walk around the central Plaza De Armas will allow you to meet people from all over the world! There is also a wealth of Incan monuments all over and around the city, that have survived the ravages of time as well as the Conquistadors in their efforts to destroy them.
The main thing that people struggle with when first arriving in Cusco is the altitude. Situated in the Andes around 3,400 metres above sealevel, everyday activities such as climbing a flight of stairs can be made all the more tiresome. It´s also not uncommon to get altitude sickness up here. So, if you´re like me and you want to enjoy every day to the fullest out here, there are a number of ways of acclimatizing quickly:
1) Get an Andean appetite – you will quickly find that people who live in Cusco eat a lot more than you´d expect because you burn off energy so easily. It may feel a little unatural at first but as you get used to using more energy, you´ll get used to eating more food. So, if you’re like me – polite and British and not wanting to appear a gluton, just let yourself go – you’re not going to put on weight here!
2) Coca leaves – these are great for giving you an extra burst of energy.
Chewing them feels really weird at first and makes you kinda look like a chipmunk for a bit, but after a while, it settles into a small, green pulp which you can just keep in the side of your mouth whilst it slowly releases invigorating energy. But if you don’t want to go down the route of sticking leaves in your mouth, there are lots of coca products for every taste from sweets and tea to wine!
3) Chica – otherwise known as Corn Beer. Don’t get too excited Beer drinkers, It won’t get you smashed, but it will give you a boost in your day. Many farmers have chica at the middle of the day to give them the strength to work for the rest of the day. It’s traditional to pour the first part of the drink to the Earth in thanks for its bounty, say ‘salud’, down the rest and jump back into work!
4) Rest – it’s really tempting to try and ignore the fatigue you’re feeling so that you can jump right in to exploring the area and doing as much as you can with your limited time, but letting your body have its well needed rest will mean that you will be able to enjoy being in the Andes to its fullest later. Many people have known to arrive in Cusco, sleep for a day and then experience no altitude sickness whatsoever!
The other issue many visitors to Cusco find it hard to get used to is the cold. That’s right, the cold! It may be gorgeous and sunny here, but at this altitude, when the sun goes down or you step into the shadows, you really feel the cold, especially in the winter months of June, July and August. It might be worth investing in coats and jumpers before you go. Then again if you don’t, it does give you an excuse to buy an awesome Alpaca merchandise!
Once you get used to the altitude here, there is so much to enjoy. Here’s just 4! I’m sure you’ll find more:
Coricancha – the Conquistadors tried to demolish it, then gave up before deciding to build a monastery on top of it. A while later, an earthquake caused the original monastery to collapse, whilst the Inca foundations remained intact!
3. Horse riding around the Luna Temple – this is a truly awesome experience! A lot of horse riding trips just pull your horse along by a lead, so make sure you get one that allows you to ride the horse yourself and even race one another!
4. Macchu Picchu – it’s on everyone’s bucket list and when you get there you can see why. It’s a truly spectacular lost city (well it’s not so much lost any more, but it did stay hidden from the Conquistadors for a hell of a long time) When I got there, the entire city was shrouded in mist, meaning I didn’t get the postcard picture, but I did get these: