We arrive safely to Cusco Peru the home of the Great Incan Empire and are immediately blown away by what we see. Both the city and what lies ahead will forever be embedded in our memory. The impact history has when you can actually "touch" it, is immeasurable. To say we were impressed is a sad understatement.
Let me begin by saying that Cusco is 11,000 feet above sea-level - second highest city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia - and boy is it cold! Brrrrr. We found ourselves having to acclimate not only to the elevation, but to the drastic temperature change. Salinas/Guayaquil was a humid 80F or so and Cusco drops as low as 30F on some nights. It was traumatic to have to wear mittens, hats and gloves in the middle of June for me, but my polar bear on the contrary, was in heaven.
Cold and altitude aside, Cusco is one of the most magical cities I have ever seen. Surrounded by the majestic Andes, it's as if time has skipped over this quaint pueblo. Nestled at the base of the statuesque slopes colonial Cusco is deceiving. Concealed behind its ancient walls lies the modern-day conveniences of the 21st century, but you wouldn't know it upon first glance. It's almost as if any moment the Incas themselves would come marching down from Sacsayhuamán in all their golden glory bearing their unmatched pride and determination. Truth is they were all around us. The hotel attendant, the taxi-cab driver, the waiter at the restaurant, all of them bear the strong Andean features of their proud ancestors, in both their faces and their speech (many still speak Quechua.) We heard it in the Andean music they listen to regularly, and in their everyday colloquialisms. The whole experience gave us such great insight into this ancient and complex culture that is still a great anomaly to many.
Without a doubt, Machu Pichu was the highlight of all highlights, but there is so much to see and do in Cusco and surrounding areas we were glad we left time to explore.
Our first excursion was to the Sacred Valley and the famous ruins of the city of Pisac. The striking Andean backdrop is reason enough to visit, but combine it with the quaint artisan markets, the dynamic colorful wardrobe of the local Indians and the indelible history and the experience becomes that much more transcendental.
Some of my favorite shots (be forewarned, there are quite a few.)
Our cozy, clean and centrally located accommodations also get great reviews. We booked the Orquidea Real Hostal after reading the good reviews in our Fodor's travel guide. An excerpt from one of the hotel's websites describes it perfectly: "The Orquidea Real Hostal come to life from the restoration of an old colonial house located in the historical heart of Cusco. Its architecture keeps to tradition and colonial style and thus blends beautifully with its surroundings. The hostal's original Inca walls, its exceptional views of Cusco , the ceilings with visible wooden beams, make it very cozy and unique. Large King-size beds, private bathrooms, telephones, cable television and private security boxes, undoubtedly the best value for money in Cusco. Hot and cold water supply is guaranteed day and night. Room rates include continental breakfast, served in its cafeteria which also enjoys a lovely panoramic view of Cusco." For only $44 a night for a super-comfy-and-cozy King Size Bed and yummy Peruvian breakfast of eggs, rolls, jam and your choice of coca tea and freshly squeezed orange juice - this place is ideal if you are looking for a great B&B for your buck.
In terms of dining, Cusco has a lot of fabulous choices but one of our favorites by far was "A Mi Manera" located within walking distance from the Hostal. The food is fresh, the service is impeccable and the contemporary decor fused with Andean details makes for a lovely dining experience. Highly Recommended.
Next post will be all about the magnificence and unparalleled beauty that is Machu Pichu...Stay tuned.