In 2012, Andrew and I traveled to Peru to hike the Inca Trail. Before starting the 4-day, 3-night hike to Machu Picchu, we spent a few days in Cusco to help acclimatize to the elevation.
Cusco is situated 11,152 feet above sea level, so altitude sickness is common. Andrew was mostly fine, but I did feel short of breath and lightheaded for the first few days. We drank coca tea and stocked up on candies and gum made from coca, which is used to help prevent and treat altitude sickness. Even the locals use it—our guide on our hike chewed coca leaves throughout.
We flew into Lima and then took a short flight to Cusco. When we arrived in Cusco, our hotel had arranged for a car to pick us up. The hotel was called Hotel Rumi Punku, and we really loved it. There were views of the surrounding tiled rooftops from our room, and the hotel had beautiful stone courtyards with fountains and flowers.
Our first day we just explored the city, stopping in the main square, where we witnessed a saint’s day procession that night. We even found an Irish pub (there’s an Irish pub everywhere) that served coca tea in Incan-style mugs with shamrocks on top. Peru is known for having the most biodiverse selection of potatoes in the world, so potatoes were a part of almost every meal, along with roasted meats.
My parents had visited Peru a year or so before us, and one of things they recommended we try was a pisco tasting at Hotel Monasterio. Pisco is a traditional Peruvian spirit, similar to brandy and distilled from grapes. It has a very different flavor from anything I’d tried before. I opted for the traditional mixed drink, a pisco sour, while Andrew tried a few glasses of straight pisco, with the help of a friendly server.
The next day we set off on a guided tour of the Sacred Valley. Our first stop was the ruins of Pisac and then we stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot called Tunupa. It was right on a river and you could eat outside looking onto the garden. There were even a few alpacas on the lawn. I really enjoyed the ceviche there—one of the best I had while in Peru. Next we headed to the ruins of Ollantaytambo, and our final stop was the Quechua village of Chinchero, where we saw a presentation on the traditional methods of making dyes. Andrew also bought our alpaca rug that now hangs above our bed (his name is Greg). We saw some guinea pigs there too—they are a delicacy in Peru, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to try it!
For our last day in Cusco, Andrew and I decided to hike up to Sacsayhuaman, a nearby Incan site. In addition to exploring the site, we were able to take in great views of the city below us.
That afternoon, we also visited the Temple of the Sun right in the center of Cusco, which is a combination Incan site, Christian monastery and museum.