Top Tips for Cusco City, Peru
Welcome to my Top Tips for Cusco City, Peru.
How to get there
Welcome to my Top Tips for Cusco City, Peru! We travelled to Cusco by plane from Puerto Maldonado airport. The check-in process at the airport was fairly smooth and the security process was hassle-free. The departure gate ended up being different to the gate number printed on our boarding passes but as the gates are next to each other this was not a problem (the airport is very small). The flight itself was fairly short (around an hour) and the views over Cusco as descend are awesome (the views of the jungle as you take off from Puerto Maldonado aren’t bad either!).
Cusco is an extremely quaint city (a great mix of Peruvian culture and colonial elegance) that is easy to navigate – particularly the tourist areas of Central Cusco and San Blas. Be aware that many of the pavements in Cusco are very steep and the cobbles are a bit slippy, so wear shoes with a good tread.
Top Things to do
If you only have a brief time in Cusco, I recommend that you visit Qorikancha, a former Inca temple incorporated into a colonial church, which is on the Plazoleta Santo Domingo (map and information) and only costs 10 soles.
Guided tours are available for circa 40 soles but we did not feel the need to engage a guide as there are a number of informative sign posts inside (and you can easily research the site online). The building itself is magnificant – the outer Inca wall still exists and there is a central courtyard that catches the sun and is decorated with flowers. The views from the gardens are incredible – you can easily lose an hour relaxing in the landscaped gardens with views of the city and the mountains. We even had a little picnic in the sun.
As a side note, the toilets were also very clean (this sounds like a silly point to make but once you have been travelling in Peru for a while you will appreciate it!).
We also visited the Cusco Planetarium, which was a fun evening trip.
The friendly, enthusiastic guides give you a talk on the development of astronomy in Peru by the Incas, a tour of the Inca night sky and you have the opportunity to view a number of stars and even Saturn through a telescope!
You are picked up from Plaza Regocijo (central Cusco) at 5.40pm and dropped back at about 7-7.30pm for a total price of 50 soles. The website can be hard to navigate (as the page kept re-translating to Spanish when I used it) so I just sent the Planetarium a message and received a very speedy response. The tours are available in English or Spanish.
We were expecting to be severely affected by the altitude and dutifully took altitude tablets the day prior to the trip and for the first day in Cusco. However, we found that aside from a slight headache and breathlessness when climbing up some of steeper sets of stairs that are common in the city, we were fine (and this was probably a symptom of our lack of fitness rather than anything else!). If you do feel poorly, I’d recommend trying the cocoa tea or trying the oxygen canisters that are available from pharmacies for around 20 soles (some higher end hotels will also provide 10 minutes of oxygen free of charge).
Where to eat
The food in Cusco is generally of a good standard. I would recommend Juanito’s on Qanchipata street for lunch (Facebook page). We had the alpaca burger and a tuna sandwich for lunch (both were cooked to order) and we were offered an array of homemade sauces. There are fewer options for veggies but its still worth a look. We did get food poisoning from the pork loin or alpaca at Pachapapa, a restaurant in San Blas’ central square, so I would not necessarily recommend this restaurant. However, the restaurant was obviously popular as it was heaving and we met another couple who had an excellent meal there, so we may have just been unlucky. Green’s organic cafe on Santa Catalina Angosta (map) was also recommended to us, but we didn’t have time to go there.
Travelling to Machu Picchu
From Cusco, we left for Aguas Calientes (our base for Machu Picchu).
We booked tickets with Peru Rail who were incredibly efficient and helpful. If you don’t get time to print your tickets before you leave for Peru, or your tickets are not available for printing, there is a PeruRail desk at Lima airport where your tickets can be printed free of charge. You have to go through security into Departures in order to reach the desk. PeruRail offer a variety of train services.
I went on both the Expedition and Vistadome trains, but felt there was little difference between the two. Both had viewing windows and friendly service. The Vistadome train was slightly more comfortable and you received a larger snack (fruit, a pastry, a cake anda drink as opposed to a pastry and a drink) but this does not really merit the additional cost or negate the fact that the Vistadome train pumps out pan pipe music on a loop for the entire journey (it gets annoying, trust me).
The Cusco PeruRail station is actually in Poroy, a 30 minute taxi ride from central Cusco. Poroy itself is quite run down and I would not recommend any site seeing there. The standard taxi charge appeared to be 30 soles but we managed to get a taxi for 25 soles. There are snacks, drinks etc available at the train station as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Top Tips for Cusco City, Peru!
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