Altitude sickness aside, Cusco is one of my favorite Latin American cities that I have visited. This past year, I started my South American journey in Peru with three main objectives in mind: Take a charter plane over the Nazca lines, have my picture taken next to at least one cute llama and trek the impressive mountain of Huayna Picchu. Luckily, I was able to fulfill all of them and more.
The fondest memories that I have of my Peruvian adventure took place in Cusco and its surroundings, in this entry of A Journey of Wonders, I shall offer a brief introduction to the marvels that one can experience in this wonderful city, the Capital of the Incas.
How to get from Lima to Cusco
I started my trip, as 99% of other fellow international travelers, in Lima, capital of Peru. There are basically two ways of reaching Cusco (and therefore, Machu Picchu) from Lima. One is the easy way, involving an airplane, and the other is the backpacker way, involving a long and yet rewarding adventure by road. You can probably already guess which one I took.
My itinerary included a-not-so-long bus ride from Lima to Nazca and an extremely long and quite dangerous bus ride from Nazca to Cusco. I would definitely recommend staying at least one night in Nazca instead of just seeing the famous lines and leaving since there are a few more attractions in the surroundings of this little town, which I will explore in detail in a future entry.
I must warn you, if you insist on taking a bus to Cusco, you better have a strong stomach since the bus ride involves a lot of sudden turns that might make you feel a little nauseous. Imagine an 8-hour rollercoaster ride and you might understand why I opted to take a plane on the way back.
Which airline is the cheapest? The only one not found in any search sites such as Kayak and the rest: StarPerú. Why is that? Because you need to buy the ticket with a Peruvian card or a bank deposit, so your best option is to go to a local travel agency or hostel and they will help you to buy the ticket. Prices go from 90 to 110 USD one way.
Nevertheless, once you arrive to Cusco, you better be prepared to deal with the high altitude of this place, located more than 3000 meters above sea level. Those Incas sure had strong lungs!!!
Gateway to the Inca Civilization
While Cusco is truly amazing by itself, most people designate it as their base of operations to explore the attractions of the surrounding area, the main two being the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the World, in a future entry I shall go into detail into the many different ways to reach Machu Picchu as well as whether its best to hire a private guide or take a massive tour to explore the Inca ruins arround Cusco.
Inside Cusco City, you can find an amazing historical center that has been perfectly preserved ever since colonial times, inside of the Cathedral you will experience an unique blend of Incan symbols perfectly mixed with the Catholic ones, the most marvelous example being the paintings of the Virgin Mary, who the Peruvian painters fused with Pachamama, the Earth Goddess of Incan and Andean mythology.
The best attraction of the city, is, without any doubt, the Coricancha Church, a colonial religious site built on top of the most important Incan site, the Temple of the Sun. Ideally, this is your first glimpse at the elaborate skills that the Incas used to polish the edges of the stones in order to make them fit without having to use any sort of material to keep them together.
How did the Incas managed to carry these enormous blocks and carve them in such a complex way? This is only the first mystery of these marvelous trip to the heart of the Inca Empire, be sure to follow any future posts that shall go deeper into this fascinating culture.
Where to find Llamas in Peru?
Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, llamas cannot be found in all Peruvian households as pets, instead, they can only be found in the mountain regions (such as Cusco and Arequipa) and they serve three main functions: carriers of baggage, wool suppliers and of course, as a tourist attraction. It is not uncommon to see women dressed in traditional peruvian clothing carrying small baby llamas and charging tourists a small fee to take a picture with them. Trust me, it is really worth it!!!
Have you ever visited this jewel of the Inca Civilization ? Would you like to?