Cusco was our base for quite some time in which we could do some amazing trips. But the most important thing we did here, was getting used to the altitude. Cusco is situated at 3.500 meter above sea level, which means there is less oxygen in the air. This can cause headaches and dizziness and only walking the streets with a small elevation can get you short of breath. And since we were planning on doing quite some hiking here, we took our time to make sure we would not get altitude sickness. And we have to say, spending some time here is quite a treat. The people are just beautiful, there are markets everywhere and the streets are narrow but quite impressive.
From Huacachina, we first traveled to Arequipa where we spent some time and started adapting to the height a bit. We bought our busticket from Ica to Arequipa in Huacachina, bus company Palomino which costed 90 Soles p.p. We left Ica at 8 pm by taxi (10 soles) and the bus was supposed to leave at 9 pm. After a delay of 1,5 hour we left at 10.30 pm and arrived at 11.15 am at Arrequipa International Terraport. From there we took a taxi to our accommodation which was near Plaza de Armas for 10 soles.
We arranged a busticket from Arequipa to Cusco at Mobiltours for 80 Soles p.p. for 1st class seats including diner. We left Arequipa at 8.30 pm from Arequipa International Terraport and arrived in Cusco at 6.30 am at Terminal Terrestre. Before leaving Arequipa we had to pay 3 Soles tax p.p at the busstation.
As every bigger town, Cusco has plenty of restaurants with lots of variety in both dishes as prices. Since we stayed in a guesthouse with shared kitchen, we mostly cooked our own meals. But going out for pizza is always a good idea. There is a small pizza place, nearby our guesthouse, which serves really delicious pizza which are really cheap. Great for those nights when we didn't feel like cooking.
We also went out on a little quest for guinea pig.. It is a local delicacy in Peru so were thinking about trying it. But we definitely didn't want to get some from the street venders. So we asked around for a good restaurant, but once we arrived there, the restaurant was closed. Can't say we were really disappointed.. Instead we had some alpaca meat which was really delicious!.
We stayed at the Ukuskus Hostel and had a great stay here. Booking a triple room was the same price as a double, and we could use the extra space for all our laundry and souvenirs. The room was bright, spacious, had a strong and nice warm shower and we were really satisfied with the small heater in the room because it was cold in Cusco during our stay. The staff is friendly, it is only a few minutes away from the markets and main square and even though it is a big guesthouse, it isn't really noisy.
There is big shared kitchen but do pick your times to cook because most people who stay here, also use the kitchen. Same for the wifi. It is strong, but on busy times it's better to stay away from it to avoid getting irritated.
As said, Cusco was our base for some amazing trips. We first spent some days getting used to the altitude and to shop around a bit at the dozens of different agencies that offer tours. Most of them offer the same tour, but the prices really vary. We already did some online research but walked in at random agencies as well to check their tours and prices.
The most famous trekking to Machu Picchu is the Inca Trail. 'Unfortunately' you need to book this trail far in advance (about 6 months before) because only a certain number of people are allowed to follow this trail each day. Since we didn't want to book anything in advance, we had to look for an alternative. And this alternative was the Salkantay Trekking. We booked our tours at Peru Coca Travel where we got a really fair price and it just felt wright.
We decided to go for the 5 day- 4 night Salkantay Trekking which is best described as:
Getting up really early for several days, sleeping in (cold) tents, waking up with someone shouting 'amigos' while shaking our tent and bringing us coca tea, walking more than we ever did, enjoying incredible and a huge variety in landscapes, surviving a snow blizzard at 4.600 meters high while crossing the Salkantay Pass, soaking the mud and sweat of in thermal hot baths, dancing around a campfire drinking terrible Inca-tequila and sharing 1 liter bottles of beer with our new Brazilian friend Carlos and flying like superman over a valley while being a little bit hangover. And after all of this in 4 days, we climbed the never ending 1.800 steps towards Machu Picchu at 5 am in the morning to get rewarded with an awesome view overlooking this amazing place that has been on our wishlist for so long!
A more detailed story about this trip, will follow soon.
CUSCO RAINBOW MOUNTAINS
The Rainbow Mountains are getting more and more popular since they started doing guided tours to these incredible giants. Therefor, it can be really crowded once you get up there. And the walk isn't easy.. Since we just did the Salkantay Trekking, and not being big fans of hiking, we where really glad when we figured out an easier way to visit these mountains, which did not include a long hike.
The pick up was at 6.30 am at our hostel by a very enthusiastic guide. We were with 7 people, 1 driver and 1 guide who all fitted in one minivan. We payed 100 Soles for this trip and it's including breakfast and lunch. The ride started a bit boring, with to many stops to get food, money, toiletbreaks... But after we got off the main highway, it started to get more interesting, driving through villages and beautiful scenery with green terraces full of alpacas.
After we saw a baby alpaca being born, and payed the entrance fee of 10 Soles, we stopped at a beautiful valley. The hike up was easy, about 40 minutes (although the height will give you some problems breathing at 5.000 m). You can see several rainbow mountains and although it is not like the 'traditional rainbow mountain', the view is still amazing! You can even see some big snowy mountains on the left and the red valley on the right hand side. After an important ceremony with coca leaves and cola to thank the 3 mountains, we headed back to the minibus where they served a surprisingly nice chicken sandwich and we drove back to arrive in Cusco at 7 pm. A long day, but so worth it, especially when you are done with hiking!
There are several markets where you can buy your blanket, poncho or alpaca socks. We did the shopping mainly at Centro Artesanal market (blankets and poncho's) which is a bit out of town, but with fair prices. For the little stuff and great food you can go to San Pedro market. One tip: do buy some warm socks and sweaters when doing the Salkantay when it's cold. Life savers, trust us.