Date of stay: Nov 2011
Where you stayed: Hostal Quipu
Travelled with: Wife
Tour or pre planned: Pre-planned
Let’s face it; you’re here to see Machu Picchu. And while Machu Picchu takes all the Kudos as the best site in the area, and relegates Cuzco as merely a base for it, take all that away and you’re left with a fantastic city in its own right.
Once you arrive it is highly recommended that you take it easy for a few days and get plenty of rest due to the altitude. If arriving by plane you’ll need longer to acclimatize, but if arriving by bus from another high altitude town you’ll find it easier. Just remember to take it easy, drink plenty of water, chew/drink a lot of coca leaves/tea and if needed pick up some Sorojchi tablets to get rid of the headaches (cheap and available almost everywhere).
Although you might be eager to head straight to Machu Picchu, don’t think for a second that those few days of rest will be wasted, as Cuzco deserves at least a couple of days of exploring. The city is surrounded by mountains and has fantastic squares, tiny alleyways and cobblestone streets, making for quite a unique place seeped in history.
Hostal Quipu was our first place to stay, and it didn’t disappoint.
We arrived in Cuzco pretty exhausted after an overnight bus journey, and once we arrived at the hostel there was a big pot of coca tea waiting for us.
Rooms don’t seem the most secure though, with just a padlock holding 2 doors together but it does the job. The showers are the best in Peru, with good pressure and heat (a rarity and a luxury I can tell you right now) and it can get cold at night so be sure to rug up in the wee hours. There’s also a good wifi connection compared to everywhere else, and you’ll get unlimited amounts of coca tea made for you which is a bonus!
Price wise you’ll pay around £15 quid (roughly $20 to $25 US dollars) per night and depending on the season.
The main market in Cuzco is great and we managed to smash back many cheap fresh juices and picked up quite a few fancy wares. We just love watching the people too, especially the shrunken shrivelled old ladies with colourful clothes and hats. With a little observation you’ll see that everyone works pretty hard here, and the Peruvians meaning of the word ‘Labour’ is a little different to ours, making the rest of us all seem pretty lazy really.
In the evenings the city lights up and breathes new life into all corners, and the backdrop is a sight for sore eyes. Outside the market just bustles with people playing betting games and foosball and street performers. Although the area is safe just be vigilant for pickpockets.
One interesting evening we ate a huge bowl of chicken soup (only 3 Soles) on the side of the street with all the locals outside just soaking in the atmosphere, when some guy started arguing with a bunch of people and proceeded to punch 3 women in the face. How lovely.
There’s also a great outdoor food market in Plaza De La Almudena, near the cemetery.
Food wise, we weren’t terribly impressed when compared to other exotic places we’ve been in the world, but I can heartily recommend Tacu Tacu (mashed potato & beans) and any form of stuffed chili peppers. Alpaca can be good too, if you feel like chewing on some of that.
Firstly, for shorter tours I recommend booking these as soon as you arrive in Cuzco, or even weeks before if you are coming in the peak season. We booked 2 days in advance out of season and got the last few spots available. They fill up fast. Doing the 3 or 5 day trek is a different story, and you’ll need to book months in advance.
We ended up doing a 2 day/1 night Machu Picchu and sacred valley tour, forking out US$160 (s/420) each, which covers buses, trains (the most expensive part, and the reason why you need to book early), guides and accommodation in Aguas Calientes. We just booked with one of the many agents dotted around the city. In the end the whole tour seemed pretty disorganised, but order was somehow created out of chaos and the overall tour was fantastic, I can’t recommend it enough.
Just a couple of tips:
- With the tour you get to choose train times to/from Aguas Calientes. I suggest getting the Ollantaytambo train to Aguas Calientes at 7pm. The Sacred valley tour will finish around 5pm, so you’ll still have another 1 ½ hours to wander around. That’s plenty. Many people we bumped into had to wait around for over 3 hours for their 9pm train, so earlier is better. Then you can hit Aguas Calientes at night, put head to pillow and wake up nice n early the next day to head to Machu Picchu on one of the many buses before all the tour groups arrive. Suggest coming back at 5.30pm too, as you’ll want the whole day to explore the area. TRUST ME.
- It is best to do this as a tour as doing it DIY will either cost the same or even more. Plus you won’t have a guide, which is highly recommended so you know what the hell you are looking at and walking on.
The tour itself covered quite a few stops along the way to Machu Picchu, including all the hotspots along the Sacred Valley, small markets, and view points for photos.
Here’s a rough guide on what the tour covered:
The best market we’ve been to yet. Great variety and quality items, prices are equal to Cuzco, so you’ll have to bargain a bit more. The Incan ruins, Intihuatana, near Pisac are stunning. The views over the Inca Citadel and terraces sliced out of the mountainside are breathtaking. The best view is as you come into the entrance way, although you can climb the citadel itself for another nice view.
Not too much to do here, just a stop for lunch really. The buffet we had for s/20 was pretty good.
A beautiful little town, you’ll walk through the old Incan city and climb the terraces. The surroundings are spectacular. Worth staying a night here if time allows.
It’s located amongst the Incan ruins themselves and you can climb the terraces for impressive panoramic views. It was from here that we caught the Inca Rail train to Aguas Calientes, the home base for Machu Picchu. The train ride is very scenic, with some Incan ruins and terraces along the way.
The area where this little town is situated is fantastic, and prepares you for what’s to come. Although quite expensive, you won’t spend much time here but it’s definitely worth an overnight stay. Can’t remember the name of the place we stayed, but it was nicer than what we thought it would be (being part of a tour package), and very close to the train station. Buses to Machu Picchu can be easily grabbed in the morning from the centre of town and return you here also (you have to pay, but it’s cheap).
You know those places that are super-hyped up and turn out to be a disappointment when you finally see them? Well, this is not one of those places. Machu Picchu is more incredible than you could ever imagine.
The tour guide was great and we had the whole day to explore, relax etc. All with amazing surroundings that we’ll never forget, whether it be exploring, climbing or just chilling out and taking a nap, it’s a place you’ll never want to leave. We ended up finding a nice grassy spot and played cards for a while, with an Incan city in the background. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I can’t really put anything else into words, as it’s something that you just have to experience for yourself.
Just a couple of tips:
- Despite what you may think Machu Picchu is actually nearly 1km lower in altitude than Cuzco, so you’ll find it a bit easier up here. It also means that it is much warmer, so don’t bring too many clothes. Also bring sunscreen, as you can potentially get cooked.
- You can bring water in. You’re not supposed to bring in food (due to people chucking garbage everywhere) but if you can, sneakily bring in snacks and make sure you keep all waste of course! Buy sandwiches in Aguas Calientes & bring with you as it’s about 1/5th of the price once you get up the top (no doubt you’ll be on a budget, unless you have money to burn!).
- Once all is said and done, ditch whatever leftover coca leaves you have before crossing any borders/jumping on a plane!
If you have any questions about Cuzco/Machu Picchu, drop a comment below and I’d be happy to answer.
Points to highlight:
From the bustling beautiful town of Cuzco with its amazing backdrop and wonderful markets to the breathtaking scenery of the Sacred Valley and the granddaddy of them all, Machu Picchu, you’ll get everything you always wanted in a vacation. If there’s one place on earth you need to go before you die, it’s here.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your accommodation: Yes
Overall rating: 5 out 5