After spending such a long time in La Paz we underestimated how much of a tourist place Cusco is. The streets are bustling with backpacks and hiking boots. You won’t feel out of place. As soon as you reach the centre you are bombarded with locals touting for your business. Restaurants, tours and massages (if that’s your thing) were readily available. I had one lady that literally chased me down the street trying to get me to buy from her.
I thought we would be going to Cusco just to trek to Machu Picchu but there are an abundance of tours and places of interest to see. This is a place that needs some good planning if you want to make the most out of it.
“Don’t call it a Dream…..call it a Plan”
First Impressions of Cusco
We arrived in Cusco via Bolivia Hop around 5am in the morning. It was a 24-hour trip from La Paz by bus but the price was too good to pass up. It cost around £35 for the trip and it certainly exceeded my expectations. Highly recommended. Once we arrived at our hotel it was a quick 2-hour nap before we got up for breakfast.
You don’t have to venture far before you stumble across the first piece of famous architecture. We had seen this wall online but didn’t realise how close it was to the city centre. It was located just next to San Francisco Square. Here you can see the mysterious stonework mastery which still to this day has many speculations around who built it. This kind of work really needs to be appreciated by the eye where you can see the detail and precision in the placing of the stones.
The main streets are clean and wide with an abundance of shops and restaurants. They even have KFC, Starbucks and McDonalds on the main square. Once you veer away from the city centre the streets become narrower and have that ‘back alley’ feel to them. You can however find some great little cafes located here.
San Francisco Square
This is the main square where lots of tourists congregate. Usually there is some activity taking place here. I saw lots of school parades, dancing and two weddings. The park is lovely with a fountain in the middle. Due to the nice weather we had it was great to come here with a drink and just relax. There is a police presence here and rangers patrolling the area so even when you come back at night you never feel in any danger. I quite easily went for many pleasant walks alone to explore.
Sacsayhuaman is a must when you visit Cusco. It is so close to the main square that there would be no reason to miss this one off your list.
There is a hill (a big hill) on the way up but there are always more than enough taxis if you are not physically able to make the journey. You will also be offered to purchase a guide to take you round, but I never opt for that and like to explore areas in my own time.
It is said that Sacsayhuaman was built over 1000 years ago by the Killke culture who populated this area around 900 AD. It was then later inhabited and extended by the Incas. There are only theories about the construction of these megalithic structures however. You make up your own mind what you believe.
Today Sacsayhuaman is used to celebrate such events as the solstice and many come here to meditate.
Tickets to Sacsayhuaman
The price can either be 70 soles (£15) for a one-day ticket to Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay. You can also buy a 10-day ticket (called Boleto Turistico General) which includes admission to 16 sites (including the four above and various museums). This ticket will cost you 130 soles (£30).
Sacsayhuaman and Q’enqo are close to each other but there is a bit of a walk to Puka Pukara and Tambomachay. Sacsayhuaman is the most popular with its huge monolithic structures. The site is massive, and you could easily spend all day here. After visiting the site myself, I fully recommend opting for the 10-day ticket. This way you can go at your own pace, have a repeat visit if you wish and take advantage of the museums available. This is especially advantageous if you will be visiting Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero or Moray.
This can be done in a day trip. Which usually consists of a pick up time of 8am and a return time of around 7pm. These trips usually include the sites of Pisaq, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. If you have already purchased the Boleto Turistico Ticket you won’t have to pay the entrance fee. The price of this day tour is around $25 if booked online. You may be able to find a better price if you check out the local tours.
If your trip doesn’t include Moray then you can always book this as a separate trip. I found this fun looking quad biking trip with Viator for only $46 with great reviews. The site of Moray is especially interesting given the fact that each terrain has its own unique microclimate and temperature and has become quite the scientific wonder.
Rainbow Mountain is a newly discovered attraction and has only been advertised by tours since 2016. The mountain was concealed by snow and ice, however due to climate change this has now melted leaving us with the increasingly popular Rainbow Mountain. The unique colours are formed due to weathering and the minerals in the land.
There is a mixture of reviews with regards to Rainbow Mountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take the trek myself but will update this once I return. Many say that it is a tedious trek and many need to pay for a horse to carry them some of the way when it has become too difficult.
The advice is to make sure you are acclimatised to Cusco before you attempt the hike. The altitude can reach over 5000m. The journey sets off very early in the morning. Around 3am. So if you are tired, car sick and altitude sick all at the same time this will become a very difficult trek for you. The weather is supposed to be very temperamental and changes frequently.
However, the overall consensus is that Rainbow Mountain is a beautiful sight and well worth the trek. It is around a 3-hour drive from Cusco, then a 3-hour trek to the top. Once there you get about an hour to soak it all in before heading back to your bus. I regret not managing to fit it into my itinerary while I was there so if this is something you want to do make sure you fit it in.
One way to get to Machu Picchu is by taking the Salkantay Trail. However if this is not your option of choice but you still want to see the views, you could take a day trip out to Humantay Lake. This is situated along the Salkantay Trail so you still get an opportuniaty to take in the beautiful scenery. There is a 4-hour bus ride there and then roughly a 3-hour trek. This tour costs around $50 online.
Finally, the main reason you came to Cusco. I have created a different blog post specifically for my experience of Machu Picchu here.
If you are travelling to Cusco purely to see Machu Picchu then there are package deals you can buy just like you would a normal holiday. For Example with Intrepid Travel. Here you will find (at the time of writing) and 8 day trip covering the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley. Accommodation, camping and meals are arranged for you and you just need to sort your flight over.
Accommodation in Cusco
For the days that you are not camping or hiking you are going to want to find somewhere to stay. There are plenty of hostels located in the city but you are going to want to try and get one close to the city centre.
We opted for hotel style accommodation in Cusco rather than a larger apartment. You expect to be out of the hotel more than you are in it but it is a good way to store any excess luggage you wont be bringing on your treks with you. Our hotel was called Killaqente.
We got a really good deal booking last minute with no money back if you cancelled. We knew our plans wouldn’t change so why not take advantage of the savings.
On first sight, the hotel doesn’t seem much and the rooms are really rather small. However once you start to appreciate the perks of this hotel (especially given the price) the better it became.
- Daily maid service including fresh towels and bed made etc.
- Breakfast Included. We were able to make this vegan. I brought my own porridge (although they did have a range of sugary cereals) and used their boiling water. They had unlimited coffee, teas, coca leaves and orange juice. They had bread and jam and you could grab some buns for later. I bought my own avocado and made some avocado buns. Usually there was banana or cooked potatoes available. I would have liked to have seen more fruit however they probably cater for what is eaten most often.
- Kitchen. The kitchen was left open should you need boiling water or cooking facilities during the day.
- 24-front desk. Great security and always someone to help if needed.
- Laundry service. They arranged really sharpish laundry service for us and it was all neatly cleaned, dried, folded and wrapped for us, and delivered to our door.
- TV. Although you will not be using this much if at all, they actually had English movie channels.
- Hot water – need I say more.
Above all the staff were extremely friendly. Killaqente is located at the top of a bit of a hill but only 10 minutes walk to the city centre with an array of shops located in the vicinity. It is actually just around the corner from a gym but we never used this. We were doing enough walking.
I would love to hear which extra trips you all recommend for the next time I visit. Let me know.
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