Acclimatising in Fabulous Cusco, Peru

September, 2011

When in Peru, the best thing you can do before trekking to Machu Picchu, is acclimatising in Cusco…

Cusco (also Cuzco) is not all about the Pisco Sours, Peru’s signatory cocktail – although very scrumptious. This amazing but exhausting city is renown as the base from which to start a trek to the incredible Machu Picchu.

Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app on iTunes and GooglePlay. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Arequipa, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South AmericaGetting there

From Arequipa, the overnight Cruz del Sur bus takes around ten hours.

This time, our travel buddies from Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia are also on the bus, as they are volunteering for a few weeks in an orphanage in Cusco.

Check out Go2Peru for more bus companies and destinations.

No alcohol on the bus so the boys sculled their beers before hopping on for the long journey, with the bottle of rum safely packed in a backpack.

This trip is supposed to be quite beautiful during the day so if you have time, take this opportunity.

Arriving at the uncovered bus station in Cusco, a horde of taxi and accommodation touts swamp you, badgering hard. Walk away and find a taxi outside of the bus station so you don’t get ripped off as much. Our hostel is on a no-through road so the taxi can’t drop us off at the door – walking uphill with heavy backpacks at this altitude, isn’t much fun.

Buses in Peru

If there’s one piece of advice I can give you and something I’ve learnt during the six months of travelling overland in South America, don’t go for the cheapest bus ticket, especially for long-haul journeys.

Buses in South America can be more comfortable than a plane’s cattle class seat. Pay for a reclining seat (or Cama – bed), so you at least have some comfort during the overnight journey.

Lower Deck – VIP: only 10 to 12 seats and allocated seating, reclining 180°
Upper Deck – Regular: allocated seat reclining 40 degrees
Upper Deck – On Sale: special price – allocated seat reclining 40 degrees
Upper Deck – Outstanding: outstandingly cheap, you may not get a seat


  • Avoid sitting next to the toilet.
  • Upper deck on buses is a little sickly whilst swerving around bends and typically, more jammed with seats.
  • Take earplugs, warm clothing, music, and anything else for which to wallow away the long sleepless hours.


This very hilly city was the administrative and religious capital during the Inca period and in 1983, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the City of Cuzco listing.

Exhausting, not only for Cusco’s altitude of 3,400 metres above sea level, but the constant hassling from touts as after all, this is a major South American tourist destination. And, one where hordes of travellers’ stream in on a continual daily basis.

Still, try and ignore the badgering and experience Cusco for its wonderful colonial architecture, a legacy of the Incas and the Spanish.

The Inca’s original name for Cusco was Huacaypata, which is a Quechua word that means a ‘place of meeting’ or ‘of weeping’.

Plaza de Armas

Whilst ambling through this great meeting point for locals and travellers, and the vibrant heart of the city, check out the many restaurants, bars, cafes, and souvenir shops gracing stunning architecture.

At the plaza’s centrepiece, the intricate statue of Pachacuti – Incan ruler – stands proud amongst fastidiously manicured gardens.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

An abundance of roaming vendors sell a profusion of Peruvian savoury and sweet snacks, including drinks – it’s cheap to eat at these snack carts.

The downside is that many of the hawkers also frequent this area and I guarantee, you will be approached to buy something.

Inca Walls

Strolling away from the Plaza de Armas and finding yourself on Loreto’s narrow alleyway, the bustle of tourists lets you know that you’ve arrived at the Inca walls.

The wall belonging to the Amarucancha (Courtyard of the Serpents) is on the right and marks Huayna Capac, the 11th Inca’s palace.

Llama Ladies (my nickname) are everywhere and if you’re caught taking their photo, you have no option but to cough up money.

Inca Wall, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

The oldest surviving Inca wall is on Loreto’s other side and belonged to the Acllahuasi (House of the Chosen Women).

Inca Wall, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Away from Plaza de Armas heading northeast, you’ll find yourself on Hatunrumiyoc, which is named after the famous 12-sided stone – a brilliant polygonal masonry technique.

Wonderful freshly-baked bread awaits at the wall, each day.

Inca Wall, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Many touts distract you, so watch your bags at this spot – an opportunist is always close.

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin

Also known as Cusco Cathedral, the steps of this grand iconic cathedral is another terrific meeting point and wonderful for people-watching.

Cathedral steps, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Almost one-hundred years after construction commenced, the cathedral finally saw completion in 1654…

Wedding, Cusco Cathedral, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

…and is now a major colonial art repository – and of course, there is an entrance fee, which includes a trip into the crypts.

Iglesia de la compañía de Jesús

Built on an Inca palace, this imposing church started its life in 1576. Badly damaged in 1650 during an earthquake, the church’s rebuild was completed in 1668, and is hailed as Peru’s best example of Spanish Baroque architecture.

Cusco Cathedral, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Barrio de San Blas

San Blas is by far the most picturesque and historic area of Cusco for its cobbled laneways etched away by centuries, but also its large bohemian and artist scene. Also known as Barrio de los Artesanosartesans’ quarter – art studios and shops offer high-quality handicrafts.

Seems like everyone is selling something in Cusco and predominately, accommodating tourist tastes.

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

San Blas is a steep walk from Plaza de Armas, but this is our daily walk and great training in preparation for the trek.

Street scenes

South Americans love their street parades and Peru is no different.

Parade, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Wandering around the city streets, it’s not long until we bump into a colourful cultural street parade with young girls dressed in colourful pretty costumes.

Parade, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Absorb yourself amongst many beautiful buildings, whilst soaking in Cusco’s atmosphere – night time is a little quieter and probably because the temperature drops so quickly.

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Rambling up and down hills exploring aged alleyways provides a favourite daytime distraction.

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Children seem content with sitting quietly watching a parade, or just playing on ancient stone steps.

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

An unusually quite lane.

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Even tired tourists need a rest sometimes…

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Football in Cusco

Together with our friends, we decide to venture to the Estadio Inca Garcilaso de la Vegao to watch a football game, of course.

Estadio Inca, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

The local Cusco team Cub Sportivo Cienciano, lost 0/1 to Sporting Cristal in today’s game.

Not expecting to see such a huge police presence donning full riot gear around the stadium, but especially on the field, this makes you a tad nervous.

Estadio Inca, Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America

Luckily nothing major broke out – police are used to escort teams off and on the field, from potential objects thrown at the players.

3 cool things to do in Cusco


Cusco’s nightlife is buzzing with a plethora of bars for young and old, and there is always something happening most nights. You won’t be bored and just venture out to see what’s out there…

Spanish and Salsa classes

Although I did neither, many travellers head to Cusco to take Spanish classes and also Salsa classes. I’m sure that other travellers and most hostels know where you can join classes.

San Pedro Markets

Go where the locals go and head out to San Pedro Markets for cheap excellent freshly squeezed juices and local food, including fresh produce. Everything is on offer including jellied drinks and Peru’s delicacy BBQ Cuy (Guinea Pig), but go in the morning as produce is fresher, due to lack of refrigeration.


If you’re strapped for time or on a tour, then you can visit Machu Picchu in one day or overnight, and The Sacred Valley on a separate visit. For those with more time, treks to Machu Picchu can take from two to five days, or longer.

The manager at Pisco and Soul recommended an agent to book our Machu Picchu trek, but there are so many in Cusco that my only advise is read some traveller reviews first.

Booked on the five-day Salkantay trek, the agent promises a great local guide, smaller group at a budget price. I’ve dedicated a whole post just to this incredible trek and will publish this next week, so stay tuned.

Where to sleep

Such a touristy city offers a multitude of choices at every budget, so rest assured, you won’t need to sleep in a bus stop.

Pisco and Soul

From the moment you meet the marvellous managers from Pisco and Soul, you receive a wonderful warm welcome and instantly made to feel at home. Accommodation is clean and a great breakfast is included.

A free Pisco Sour is thrown in for good measure on your fist night. Made with love and passion whilst fiercely debating whether its inception stemmed from Peru or Chile, it’s a delightful and genuine welcome to Cusco.

Our room is in another building and around the corner from the main building, but still within the historic San Blas area. You can also leave your gear safely here for free, whilst taking off to Machu Picchu.

Where to eat

Too many grazing choices in Cusco but whilst in Peru, you must try Ceviche. Served throughout Peru, this deliciously tangy raw seafood dish is addictive. It must be made fresh as the raw fish is cured in lime or lemon juices, spiced with chilli peppers, Ají or depending on the region, cilantro, finally chopped onions and tomatoes.

Cusco, Cuzco, Peru, South America
Too many Pisco Sours – a rare photo of me dancing (Photo credit: Wendy Pittendrigh)

Apart from cooking at the hostel to save money but also as we’ve both been sick on and off (my partner more on, than off), I’ve listed just a few places for you to try, especially if you need some western food with a Peruvian flair.

Jack’s Cafe

Jack’s Cafe – situated in San Blas, one of the oldest Cusco districts, this American-style restaurant with Australian roots, is a great travellers’ point. The food is delicious, with good service and reasonable prices.

Paddy’s Irish Pub

This pub claims to be the ‘highest pub in the world’, but La Paz has many pubs and the altitude is a couple of hundred metres higher than Cusco. Nonetheless, if you’re in need of a Guinness, then try Paddy’s next to the cathedral – it really is as if you’re stepping through a door and into Ireland.

Naturlandia – Cusco

South America is meat heaven. But, if you’re in need of a veggie fix then this vegetarian and vegan restaurant is your go-to place for delicious food. The veggie burgers and juices are great.

Leaving Cusco

Lucky to have the luxury of spending just under two weeks in Cusco and finally fulfilling the lifelong dream of experiencing mystical Machu Picchu, it’s now time to head to Lima.

Invited on our friend’s boat to sail down the Hudson River and in to New York, booked a flight from Lima. Who wouldn’t take up this once in a lifetime opportunity? Even if it is a little side trip from the South American adventure…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Peru at Image Earth Travel.

47 responses to “Acclimatising in Fabulous Cusco, Peru”

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for the re-blog China!

  1. Francis.R. Avatar

    I always feel a bit of sadness when I travel to Cusco. A city once a capital with artists, engineers and nobility ruling South America reduced to a place (like the rest of the country) a bit following what is done in the developed countries of today. The churches always fall and the Inca remains always resist because the architecture was designed for Europe and not the earthquakes in Cusco. I think the churches should be translated respectfully block by block to another place and our palaces and temples recovered for our memory, also Cusco had sacred rivers that were turned into sewers. We are not a colony anymore so to me is strange we are not recovering what was the city. In the same way Hagia Sofia was made a museum after being taken from the Orthodox church. The views are amazing, Nilla. I know the plazas of Arequipa and Cusco are very similar because the archs and vaults and I don’t mean to be unpolite but I have to point that the nocturnas views of the plaza seem to me not from Cusco but from Arequipa (in the first one because the neo-gothic spirals of the Arequipa cathedral and in the other nocturnal view it seems to me to see the dome of the Compañía de Jesús church in the left)
    Earphones is a good concept. I don’t go in bus without them. Especially when there is played folkloric music that I don’t like xP

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Francis, thank you for your great comment as always.

      I agree with you and sadly, have seen this change in many countries, especially when returning to a country after a long break. Although tourism brings in a lot of money, it can also destroy the very fabric of a country, which is ironic as this is the reason tourists visit these countries in the first place. It’s a delicate balance and I’m not sure which country has got tourism right? It’s tragic that ancient treasures are not looked after in some countries, not just for the historic value but also for future generations to enjoy and understand.

      Thanks for you feedback on my photos and I absolutely don’t mind if you see something that you feel is wrong – I’ll always correct any error. So, I’ve re-checked my photos, photo dates, and photo numbers and the 2 night photos are definitely in the Cusco series. Very strange and maybe it’s the night lights that shines a different view? I’m not sure what to suggest. 🙂

      1. Francis.R. Avatar

        I also asked the same about tourism and have not think in a better experience. There is eco-tourism agricultural tourism and ecolodges that use the participation of the traditional families but usually the persons that profits are foreigners or wealthy westerns from the coast of our country. About the photos, well, me and all your reader know you are quite organized and I am grateful for that. It has to be the night indeed ^_^

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, exactly. When I book treks or accommodation, I always try to book with locals so they get the money and not foreigners. But, in some countries it’s not that easy, especially in South East Asia as so many foreigners have their fingers in every pie.

        I’ll check the photos again because now you have me concerned I have the wrong photos. 🙂

  2. Emma & Nathan’s Travels Avatar
    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and glad you enjoyed my post. 🙂

  3. da-AL Avatar

    wonderful! especially enjoy seeing baby llamas! have you read Shirley McLain’s fun book about when she visited Machu Pichu?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Da-al and babay Llamas can be a little vicious at times. No I haven’t, sounds like an intriguing book – I’ll have to keep an eye out for it…

      1. da-AL Avatar

        I think it’s from late 1980s – if you like, you can see a video from it on youtube – a bit hokey but fun

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you – I’ll check it out. 🙂

  4. Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad Avatar

    Amazing photos! Love your writing too. I haven’t been to Peru yet, but it’s on my list and this has definitely made me want to visit! It does seem touristy in Cusco, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find authenticity?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback.
      I have many more posts to share on Peru yet, so stay tuned. 😉
      Yes, there are always streets to explore away from the maddening crowd, which is the San Blas quarter in this instance, and so interesting also for people-watching.

  5. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    The church architecture is unreal, I can only imagine how impressive it is in person!! I adore the traditional clothing of the people.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Lulu, yes it is and I know you’d love it in Cusco.

      This is only one snippet of traditional clothing. As you can imagine, there are so many variations of traditional and indigenous clothing that distinguish locals depending on what region their from, just like the hats in Bolivia.

  6. Ashwini.B Avatar

    My wanderlust brought me to this blog and the way you describe it all is amazing!
    Great job👌

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Excellent and thank you for your kind feedback! We are meant to roam this world…
      I enjoy reading your poetry also and look forward to reading more. 🙂

      1. Ashwini.B Avatar

        Thank you so much and keep going!😊

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Definitely will as I have many more stories and photos to share yet…need to inspire more people to explore our globe. 😉

  7. Yeah, Another Blogger Avatar

    Hello Nilla. I’ve never traveled to South America, but Peru is a country that always has intrigued me. Hope to get there one of these days! Take care —

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, thank you for your comment.
      The countries in South America that I’ve travelled to are intriguing and so spectacular. Hope you get to travel to Peru as there’s so much to see… 🙂

  8. Tandi Tales Avatar

    Beautiful blog! Your series from Peru is bringing back great memories of a family trip we did there. Fantastic photography and very detailed articles. You’re inspiring me to go back!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for you great feedback. I’m happy that my stories are bringing back great memories and inspiring you to return to Peru.

      How long ago did you travel to Peru and did you go to other countries in South America?

      1. Tandi Tales Avatar

        I saw Peru in 2008. I’m sure a lot has changed since then. Every time we visit family we check out another part of the continent, so now we’ve seen little bits of Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Next time – after reading your inspiring posts – maybe I’ll plan for Bolivia.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        No doubt Peru has changed a lot since I also travelled through SA for nine months in 2011. It would be great to see the country with locals, you’re lucky.

        I’m only just getting around to writing about this trip as started this blog a few years ago. I’ve always kept travel journals and have a lot to digitise, so stay tuned: check out my Bolivia posts for more tips and ideas. 🙂

  9. idjourneys Avatar

    It seems that Cusco offers many ways of spending time. I found many interesting things in your post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, Cusco certainly does and my post doesn’t include everything, as it would become a book! 😉

  10. fakeflamenco Avatar

    I like your comments about taking the bus, and that it can be more comfortable than a plane! We found that to be true in Chile. The photos of the young women in the parade are fabulous. Gracias, Rebecca

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Rebecca, I try and give travellers some tips in my posts, whilst taking them on a little journey.

      Buses in Argentina, Chile, and Peru are amazing. Most locals can’t afford the luxury of flying, so I guess, buses have to be good, especially for the distances. I prefer buses to flying as you do see and experience more of the local flavour.

      Thank you! I have loads of the parade, but can’t bombard my posts with too many photos. 😉

      1. fakeflamenco Avatar

        For more photos of the parade, I could go to your photo website?

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I don’t have a lot of parade photos in my website, which is in maintenance mode for a couple of days as of today. I’m just transferring my domain name from my old site to my new site – what a headache!

      3. fakeflamenco Avatar

        That sounds like a lot of work. Good luck!

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It has been and it’s taken me ages as I couldn’t build a Cart system like I had with my old site, so may look at that in the future as a phase 2 of my site. I also had loads of SSL issues the last couple of days as I pointed my DNS from one host to my new host – headaches and lots of ripping hair!

        It’s live now so all feedback welcome. I’ve only loaded about 32 countries and have another 30 to go yet, so not all the the map markers load my portfolios. Let me know if it’s easy to navigate around 😉 Nilla’s Photography

      5. fakeflamenco Avatar

        So many details to keep track of with photos from 32 countries. I’ll check out the new site! -Rebecca

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Well, I hope to load another 30 but will load one portfolio each week as it takes a lot of time. Plus, I’m still writing on this blog and publish once per week at the moment. I’d like to publish more, but can’t manage it right now. I have to also change this blog’s theme as WordPress has retired the theme so no longer supported. I heavily customised this one and sure I’ll do the same with the next one – always something to work on.

        Thanks for your continual support Rebecca. 🙂

      7. fakeflamenco Avatar

        You do great work. I love seeing your photos.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you! Very kind feedback Rebecca, you’ve made my day. 🙂

      9. fakeflamenco Avatar

        Thanks for subscribing to Fake Flamenco! -Rebecca

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        My pleasure. I’m sure I did this ages ago so not sure what happened there…

      11. fakeflamenco Avatar

        You subscribed to “Life Adventures”, because my link mistakenly sent you there (beginner’s error on my part). Another boo boo you helped me resolve! Gracias! -Rebecca

      12. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ah right, sorry, I was confused. No problem and happy to help – cheers, Nilla

      13. fakeflamenco Avatar

        Thanks for your guidance! -Rebecca

  11. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    Wow! Another great post with great photos! Thank you!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Valerie and happy that you enjoyed my brief tour of Cusco.

  12. the eternal traveller Avatar

    Plenty to do here! Great advice about bus tickets too. It would be better to pay a little more for the extra comfort.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi and thank you for your comment.

      I’ve only scratched the surface in this post as there’s loads to do in Cusco. Buses are the way to travel in South America, but you do need to buy the right ticket. Although in Bolivia, some destinations didn’t have a choice and buses weren’t comfortable.

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