Cusco was the first real city we visited in Peru. We spend a quick night in Lima allowing us enough time to deal with airport traffic, twice, grab some great ceviche and sleep for a few hours. We explored Cusco much more than Lima and were pretty impressed with this little city. Cusco, also known as the Imperial City, is home to about 430,000 people. The City was founded around 1100 and if you look at the map of the city just right, it looks like a puma – one of the three most important animals to the Incan people.
Cusco is a small City, but I had a hell of time getting my bearings. I’ll blame the low oxygen levels at that altitude or the altitude sickness drugs. It was like any other old City I’ve visited – narrow, winding streets – but for some reason, I was always turned around. Bring a map or activate the data service on your phone.
The first day in town we grabbed lunch and just explored on our own. We got caught in the rain a couple times and eventually made it to Mercado Central de San Pedro – a wonderful market where you can get anything your heart desires from fresh juices, delicious pastries, hundreds of varieties of potatoes or even a cow nose (to accompany the hooves). We stuck with the juices.
The next day we decided to take an organized tour of the City. We wanted to learn about the history, the people and see some near by ruins. After a quick chat with the tourist office representative, we booked our tour, which started about 3 hours later. We left (had a massage), then returned about 3 minutes after our tour was scheduled to leave. This was the only thing in Peru that left on time. Luckily the tourism office representative was able to contact the bus and have them come back and get us. Our English language tour was conducted exclusively in Spanish. Mike was fine and my 3 years of High School Spanish did me pretty well. The Peruvians speak slowly and clearly. I probably picked up about 50% of the words and about 70% of the context.
I had a constant headache in Cusco, which I chocked up to being at altitude. Come to find out, I think it actually was the altitude sickness medicine. Once I quit the medicine the headache went away, even while at altitude. I would have liked to had another day or day and a half to explore more neighborhoods in Cusco. As we left the town, there looked to be some interesting (non-tourist) areas, but we sure didn’t have enough time to explore.
The main draw of Cusco, for me at least, was the Incan ruins. While it is a lovely City with wonderfully nice people, good (unique) food and amazing history (both pre-Spanish and post-conquest), I fear I may not return. There are so many places I want to see and so many things I want to experience, the likelihood of me returning to Cusco is slim. That being said, the City and the surrounding area, must be on your short list of places to visit.
Have you been to Cusco? Did you have any problems finding your way around – or was it just me? How did the altitude impact you? Has Cusco made your short list of cities to revisit?