I landed in Cusco, Peru after a short layover in Lima and was reminded to be conscious of the difference in altitude since we’d just arrived at a town 11,000+ feet above sea level. My travel companions and I checked into our hotel in an old monastery and drank the coca tea provided, taking it slow to adjust to the altitude, but anxious to explore the town.
Cusco is one of the oldest cities in South America and became the center of the Incan Empire in the 13th century. Many travelers come to Cusco as their base before heading into the Sacred Valley on their way to see Machu Picchu, but it’s a special place not to be missed.
The main square and surrounding streets are small enough to explore on foot, my most favorite way to get a feel for a city. The baroque architecture, the intricate balconies, the tucked away markets down alleyways, and the locals selling their wares are highlights of a visit to this ancient city.
We had amazing meals while we were Cusco. My Peruvian friend Nilda encouraged us to order the traditional preparations of meat and fish and empanadas, and of course, we drank our share of pisco sours. ;) Yes it’s true, Peruvian potatoes are the best especially when served with the creamy and slightly spicy aji sauce. I now order crema de aji sauce on Amazon and eat it with everything (chicken, fish, rice), try it, you’ll love it!
All around Cusco there are opportunities to take photographs with locals dressed in traditional clothing with a llama or alpaca. It costs a few soles but it’s a must for the photo opp. You cannot travel to Peru and not have your picture taken with a llama or alpaca, or why are you really there, really? ;)
Just across the street from our hotel where we stayed is the famous San Pedro marketplace, a lively location filled with rows and rows of stalls and it’s here that you can purchase anything Peruvian from food products to textiles to souvenirs.
Previously I wrote about the Peruvian textiles I found while exploring Cusco (insert the heart eye emoji). I’m a moth to a flame when it comes to textiles unique to a country, so one of my favorite experiences was strolling the stalls to appreciate the colors and craftsmanship of the locally made goods, and bargaining with the vendors.
Quick mention: we also booked a bus that drove us around for a few hours up into the hills beyond the main square so we could see the villages and the statue of Christ monument; you can find these tours for hire all around town or online.
I made this trip to Peru with the best travel companions, my longtime friend Nilda (who grew up in Peru) and my travel buddy Gro. In Cusco we met up with Nilda’s brother Carlos, an attorney who lives in Lima. Together the four of us had a blast exploring the city, walking and eating and drinking and sharing stories.
We couldn’t wait to continue on the next leg of our journey into the Sacred Valley!
If you have any questions about traveling to Cusco, let me know in the comments. In part two of my trip to Peru, I’ll share the story of our incredibly fun adventure in the Sacred Valley through the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo and arriving at our ultimate destination: Machu Picchu.