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Where We Are: Cusco, Peru

Back in February, after watching an episode of Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor and drinking cheap red wine, we booked our very first non-refundable adventure for our trip around the world: hiking the Inca Trail. Since that day, I have not stopped looking forward to this moment and it’s finally here!

We have arrived in Cusco, Peru, and we leave tomorrow morning on our four-day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu! Our two days in Cusco have been beautiful, low-key and pleasant. We’ve spent this time relaxing, adjusting to the altitude, and saving our energy for our hike.

Cusco at sunset is straight out of a fairy tail.

Initial Reactions On Cusco:

  1. Small & Quaint. There is not a lot to do in Cusco proper. It is small and dotted with squares bordered by historical buildings and churches. However, the city is located in the heart of the Sacred Valley, which is chock-full of incredible day trips like to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and Sacsayhuaman.
  2. It is High! We were warned about the altitude in Cusco and did all we could to prepare for it. We arrived two days before our hike with Diamox prescriptions in tow (although we didn’t end up taking them), drank liters of water, and tried to get used to the lack of Oxygen in the air. We thought as endurance athletes we’d be better prepared for the conditions, but that just wasn’t the case. We suffered headaches and shortness of breath with the best of them. Fortunately, it has not been debilitating and is nothing a little coca tea and rest can’t cure! Giving yourself plenty of time to acclimate is one of our most important tips for hiking the Inca Trail!
  3. Authentically touristy. Cusco is very much aware that their small city is flooded with tourists on a daily basis. Many of their restaurants post menus and speak to you in English, all the major hiking brands have a presence in the main square to appeal to all the hikers, and there are solicitors all over the square offering to sell you massages, lama keychains or even photos with real alpacas. But even with all of that, the city clings to its roots. You will find mothers carrying their children in brightly colored mantas (the traditional version of a Babybjörn), authentic foods like roasted guinea pig and traditional artisans that make the city feel true even with the tourist overload.
  4. Beautiful souvenirs.  I want to buy everything in Cusco. There are beautiful hand-knit hats and gloves that you can see being made by the traditionally dressed Peruvian women on the streets (of course there are lots of mass-produced versions as well, so know who you’re buying from). You can find beautiful alpaca sweaters and colorful woven accessories, and I love them all! Unfortunately my space constraint means all I got was a Lama keychain, but I can’t complain.

Seriously, how beautiful is Cusco?

What you need to know:

  • Population: ~400,000
  • Altitude: 3,399 meters
  • Exchange Rate: 3.24 Peruvian Soles to $1 USD
  • Primary Language: Spanish
  • Walking TourFree Walking Tour Peru (we did not actually go on this tour ourselves yet)
  • Time Zone: Central
  • Taxi: Yes
  • Uber: Yes
  • Public Transit: Bus only
  • Emergency Number: Police: 105 / Ambulance: 117 /  Fire: 116
  • Running: We will not be running it Cusco because we’re trying acclimate to the altitude before hiking the Inca Trail.
  • American Football: Yes! We have already stumbled across American Football pre-season games without even trying!
  • Starbucks: Yes, two.
  • Local Starbucks Specialty: Algarrobina Frappuccino (Algarrobina is a syrup made from the Black Carob tree, and the creme-based blended drink is made with this and chocolate chips it looks like.)
  • Coffee Price:  6 soles (~$1.85) for an Americano at a cafe to 10 soles (~$3) for an iced Americano at Starbucks
  • Beer Price: 10 – 20 soles  (~$3 – $6 USD)

Buenas noches, Cusco