I loved everything about my Peru trip, but the Cusco/ Machu Picchu portion was my FAVORITE (besides the food, but we’ll get to that in the next post). Cusco is one of those magical towns in a valley between ridiculously high mountains. It is at over 11,000 feet, which is no joke!
To prepare myself for such a high altitude I had attempted to get in shape the couple months leading up to the trip, but my week visiting family in Florida def slowed my workout routine down (and i’m LAZY so any chance to take a break from working out because i’m on vacation is always going to happen!). Nothing really prepares you for that altitude and it effects everyone differently. I also went to get the prescription altitude sickness drug before heading out on this trip. Diamox pretty much saved me! There are natural remedies but it involves coca leaves (leaves used to make cocaine) and with a post grad school job search quickly approaching, I decided I didn’t want to explain to a potential employer why I tested positive. Things to know about diamox, it makes you have to go to the bathroom (#1, come on I would never get that graphic on a blog post!) many times! I think I woke up three times the first night! At least the label warned me of this, although it didn’t stop me from the 3 glasses of sangria I had that night as well, oopsss!! Diamox also made me dizzy and nauseous the first day, but after the first day I had no side effects and ended up doing pretty well at the high altitude.
Cusco has that old world feel to it. People still dress up in traditional clothing (obv to get the tourists to take pictures with them for money) and the architecture there is beautiful. It really made me feel like I was in a different country. Lima has the big city feel since it has 10 million people, but Cusco made me feel like I was experiencing Peru. We spent two days in Cusco, one was a free afternoon where we did some sight seeing. My favorite part was going to the local market. They had different types of food and crafts. Apparently it is not as safe for tourists in these markets and we were warned by some of the merchants to watch our stuff because people may try to rob us. Later that night we found another market where I picked up a North Fake jacket! I had forgotten to bring a rain jacket so I figured I would pick up a nice fake north face! It looks exactly like a real north face but only cost me 75 Soles or about $25 US. While I usually only buy real designer stuff, I try to pick up one fake item per foreign country I visit, like my beautiful fake burberry wallet from Egypt (I get compliments on it daily!). At night street artists come out and we watched a man use spray paint, stencils and a lighter to make beautiful paintings. I ended up picking up a painting that cost me around $3 US, def a score!
On our last day in Cusco we went on a sight seeing trip. We went up to Saqsay Waman, better known as Sexy Woman, which is a beautiful temple built overlooking Cusco. We also went to another temple, which I can’t remember the name of, where they did the mummifying of the Incan bodies. The highlight of the sightseeing trip was a stop at a jewelry/alpaca factory. This factory builds silver jewelry by hand. I picked up a pretty ring for myself, a pendant for my grandmother and earrings for my mom. I don’t want to post pictures because I haven’t mailed the presents to my mom and grandmother yet and I’m not one to ruin a surprise! They also make real alpaca products. I decided my fake winter hat from Lima was good enough for me, but I helped my prof and his wife (who are like family to me, since I’ve been his grad assistant for the past year) pick out a scarf for their daughter. The softness of the alpaca was unreal. I wish they made alpaca sheets or snuggies! Our last sightseeing stop was to white jesus, which is a big statue of Jesus that overlooks Cusco and is lit up at night. The statute was a gift to Cusco from Palestinians that had settled there.
So now to the part you all have been waiting for MACHU PICCHU! We happened to go to Machu Picchu on my birthday! I don’t think there is a present better than that! We had to get up super early, because from Cusco its a 2 hour bus ride to the train station, where you get on a train for 1.5 hours. The train takes you to Aguas Caliente, where you take another bus for 25 minutes, that is a on a switch back road with not a lot of room for the buses that go quickly around the turns. The bus ride led through some beautiful countryside of Peru, and the train ride was next to a river and took you by mountains that are 18,000 feet. All this travel is completely worth it!
Once you get to Machu Picchu you have two options, you can hike up top so you can look over the ruins, or you can just go right into the ruins. Our tour guide took us on the up route. OMG I wasn’t sure I was going to make this hike. The altitude is only 8000 feet, but WOW was I huffing and puffing and taking breaks on this 15 min hike, luckily my friend Shawnna was right there with me (especially since FF5 left me in the dust). It wasn’t like an incline hike, it was big steps. Made me wish I had used the stair master instead of the treadmill to work out. Once we got to the top it was WORTH EVERY MINUTE! The views were unbelievable! And my pictures look like I was in front of a green screen. The really aren’t words to describe how beautiful it was, it is one of those places that everyone needs to go to to experience it themselves! There is so much detail in everything they do. Every building is placed a certain way, with windows facing certain directions. They used windows and shadows to tell time and date. The sophistication is amazing. To compare with the pyramids of Egypt, they both just take your breath away, but the scenery around Machu Picchu is what makes it even more spectacular than the pyramids. While the pyramids are the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, the backdrop of polluted Cairo does not add to the beauty. Machu Picchu is just an all around beautiful place. I spent some time sitting down overlooking the ruins and just clearing my mind. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday.
- Bring a jacket for Cusco, it gets in the 40s at night and it is COLD!
- Explore as much as you can in Cusco and check out the local markets for interesting souvenirs.
- Get in shape beforehand! It will really make a difference.
- Get a diamox prescription before you go, unless you are more daring than me and want to try the Coca tea. Or you’re really daring and want to chew the Coca leaves (just don’t eat them).
- Be prepared to get up really early the day you go to Machu Picchu, its a long way to get there from Cusco.
- Check out the hot springs in Aguas Caliente.
- Expect it to be hot at Machu Picchu, it was probably 10-20 degrees warmer there than Cusco, this resulting in shedding all the layers I needed for the cold Cusco weather. I brought back the tie your jacket around your waist look!
- Don’t be surprised when you see llamas walking around Machu Picchu (but do know that they are not native to Machu Picchu, they are not usually at that altitude, its just for show for the tourists)
- Take it all in at Machu Picchu, its just so spectacular you don’t want to miss one minute of it!!