That day, the sky looked like a shining mirror and Viracocha invited all the stars to follow him to the shores of Lake Titicaca to witness the creation of the world. At his request, the Moon (qilla) rose from the waves, followed by the Sun (inti) and the stars (wara). “O Pachamama (mother earth), bring forth from your sacred womb man and woman, in homage to Pachacamac, the Guardian of the world,” cried the Sun. From the frothy water were born Manco Cápac, a golden stick in his hand, and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo, the first two Incas. They walked northwestward to the place where the stick sank all the way into the earth, a sign that it was quite fertile. Thus was born Cuzco, “navel of the world”, center of the empire.
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
On the way to Cusco
We leave Copacabana at 5pm. The border crossing goes better than expected, thanks to the (English-speaking) guides of the Bolivia Hop bus who make sure that everyone passes, even those who exceeded their limit of stay in Bolivia (one guy had to pay a 2000$B fine, or 300€, he had to completely forget that his visa had a deadline, poor thing). This border particularly scares me because I’ve heard some horror stories about it, especially the search for “fake dollars” by the Peruvian customs, which turns into confiscation of real dollars. We make a small check to make sure that we have 90 days authorized on the Peruvian soil (it is always necessary to check because some have 30 days, others 90 days… which can cause problems later when we leave the country)
After a very friendly dinner in Puno with all the travelers, we take again the road and arrive at 6 am in Cusco. Bolivia Hop’s guides call us a cab and pay the fare for us. Good, because we aren’t very well awake after this sweet night spent warm in the bus, we have no desire to fall on a fake cab, or to negotiate the prices from 6am
Our hotel is located in a small alley. As it is almost empty, we have immediately a room to rest. Too excited to be in Cusco, I can’t sleep any more and I will spend hours to inquire about the different means allowing me to reach the grail: Machu Picchu
Day 1 :
It is 11 am when we finally decide to leave the hotel
We no longer recognize the small alleyway through which we arrived this morning. It was empty at 6 o’clock. Now, it is overflowing with ponchos, hats, posters… It looks like the old 36 streets district in Hanoi, each square meter is used to accommodate a tourist agency, a poster, a store
Hardly the feet outside that one is solicited by several people: massage? (ahh good surprise!), Machu Picchu? an alpaca poncho? a poncho for the rain? And that continues for a good ten minutes, the time that we need to cross the main square of the city
Big surprise! The city has nothing bad (I read too much travel advice on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), it’s even very very pretty! The 4 sides of the main square are so pretty that we can turn to any side, we are amazed. There are however a lot of solicitations, one cannot take a quiet picture without being disturbed by the travel agencies or the masseurs (most of these people aren’t intermediaries, they really work for the stores in question, don’t hate them)
As the restaurants around this square are out of price, we go to Pampa del Castillo street, where you can find chicharrón (fried pork) for 16 soles/person. There are only Peruvians in the restaurant. The skin of the pig is worked in a special way to give a very pleasant texture, even if it is full of fat
I especially like corn cooked in water like this. In fact, you’ll find some everywhere, at 2.5 soles without cheese, and 3 soles with cheese. Note the size of the corn seeds. It takes less time and less energy to eat them like this
We will spend the whole afternoon booking train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets. Every time we ask someone “what’s the best day to go to Machu Picchu”, we are told “you know, Machu Picchu is tropical/it’s in the jungle/it’s unpredictable”. In short, no satisfactory answer. We look at the weather forecast on Google and we have to take the decision ourselves: this Saturday! because it is the only day when we see the SUN icon
In the evening, we tell ourselves that it is the occasion or never to test the real Peruvian ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon). Even if it is out of price (55 soles), we still take a trio of the best Peruvian dishes at the Barrio C eviche restaurant: ceviche, paella and fried squid. It will be the best CEVICHE of my life! (I say it every time but it’s because the ceviches I taste are curiously better than the previous ones)
Day 2 :
The day starts well with a good breakfast in a restaurant partner of the hotel(La Mariana). The breakfast is included in the price of course, but we also have -15% here on the whole menu while being a customer of the hotel
The waitress is Romanian and we laugh well with her. The mango juice is divine! We speak, inevitably, about Machu Picchu and I ask her opinion about the thermal swimming pools in Santa Teresa (that I will miss inevitably, while travelling by train instead of taking the bus). She tells me that she didn’t go there but Lares has some too, at 40°C, in the middle of the mountains. It did not fall in the ears of a deaf person
Too tired from running around the night before, we treat ourselves to a good massage at 80 soles/person at Ajna ‘s that we spotted on TripAdvisor. It feels good because we haven’t had a massage since Vietnam (4 months ago!), our muscles are starting to suffer
The only visit that we make, it is the twelve angled stone, located at 10 meters of our inn. The stones are so well adjusted in a puzzle (or Tetris) way that even a sheet of paper cannot be slipped between the two stones. Moreover, there are excavations that have been made in our street, revealing Inca walls destroyed by the conquistadors
In the evening, we stock up on Asian food at the only Korean restaurant in the city (we feel a real need for Asian food because here, traditional dishes aren’t generous in vegetables). It seems that all the Asians have made an appointment here lol, JB is the only “white” on the spot. Unfortunately, the dishes are disappointing
Day 3 :
We will spend the whole day in the Sacred Valley, which I have dedicated an article to here
Day 4, 5, 6 :
Day 7 :
Very tired of our excursions these last days, we decide to sleep in. We wanted to go to Lares to take advantage of the thermal baths but we discover that the only bus leaving for Lares had already left at 5 am. Damn then! What about the tour Salineras & Moras? Already left at 10 am!
It doesn’t matter, we’ll spend an hour at the local San Pedro market for lunch and shopping. This market is very big and very clean, the food stalls are divided into several parts: juices and desserts, ceviche, traditional dishes, daily dishes for locals. The prices have NOTHING to do with the tourist prices in the city center
I obviously sit in front of a cevicheria to eat a super good ceviche for 10 soles, while JB tastes the lomito saltado (a typical Peruvian dish) for 6 soles (+ 1 sol for the egg option). My ceviche is served with a very hot soup (surprise!) and lemon rice (surprise bis!). If one hesitates too much in front of the stands, the saleswomen are there with a fork filled with food to make us taste, and to make us succumb
After this hearty meal, we head to the juice stands. The juices are from 4 soles. One is served twice, because the glass (even if it is enormous) cannot contain everything. Do not leave without being served again!
We take advantage of the low market price to do a little shopping for JB, whose Bolivian laundromat misplaced his favorite pajamas. Peruvians are tough in business and don’t leave much room for negotiation, the trick to paying less is to find local places where you pay less 🙂 no need to haggle
We offer ourselves a last good dinner in Cusco at Barrio Ceviche (again!) to enjoy the Peruvian ceviche
Day 8 :
JB goes on the Rainbow Mountains excursion (he has to get up at 2:45 am, poor guy!) while I enjoy the city, its cheap market and a good massage. You just have to leave our hostel to find, in front of our door, a lot of people offering massages and tours. We are lucky to be in an alley where they offer the best prices of all Cusco
I take the opportunity to visit Museo Inka (10 soles), famous for its three mummies from Pisaq, which are very different from the Egyptian mummies. This museum also has the models of Maras Moray (that we did not visit, it is a kind of terraces used as agricultural experiments), Machu Picchu and old photos of Machu Picchu
The visit of the cathedral of Cusco (25 soles) is also very interesting, the audio guide is free and exists in French. This cathedral is composed of 3 parts, with decorations and paintings adapted to the Andean civilization
Tonight we will take the bus with Tour Peru to go to Puno at 10pm
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Transportation: Bolivia Hop Pass: La Paz – Copacabana – Cusco: US$39/person
- Accommodation: 22€/night for a double room, shared bathroom (but very hot shower with good pressure) at Feel At Home. The hostal being very well located, with a good breakfast, hot drinks at will. We highly recommend it. You just have to step outside to find the best prices for massages/tours/excursions in the city.
- 5 soles per 2.5L bottle
- Between 4 soles and 9 soles the fruit juice
- Cheap restaurant: 15 soles/flat, for this, move away from the center
- Very cheap restaurant: 8 soles/menu, can be found at Mercado San Pedro, or at Choqechaka street
- Tourist restaurant: between 25 soles and 35 soles/flat. I highly recommend the Barrio Ceviche to taste the best ceviche of Peru
- Tickets for Cusco tour: Read more here
- Boletó turistico: 130 soles, valid for 10 days, to visit 16 sites in and near Cusco (excluding Machu Picchu and the salineras)
- Boletó parcial: 70 soles, valid for 2 days, to visit one of the predefined tours (except Machu Picchu and the salineras)
- Machu Picchu : 208$US/person all included – transport, lodging, ticket (except food), I talked about it here
- Sacred Valley Tour: 30 soles/person for a day tour + 35 soles for lunch (+ boleto turistico or boleto parcial to be paid in addition). Reserved just in front of the entrance of our alley.
- Rainbow Mountains Tour: 65 soles/person (breakfast, lunch and oxygen tank included) + 10 soles for entrance. Reserved tour in front of the entrance of our alley.
- Cusco Cathedral: 25 soles/person, audio guide included
- Inka Museum : 10 soles/person
- Tickets for Cusco tour: Read more here
- Massage 80 soles/person one hour massage at Ajna’s place
- Foot massage: 35 soles/30mn
- Facial care: 40 soles/40mn
- Laundry: 2.5 soles/kg, next day delivery, Choquechaka Street
- BCP allows you to withdraw a lot of money at once but only gives you big bills, difficult to sell (200 soles!). Prefer Scotiabank which sulks withdrawals over 400 soles but gives small bills of 50 soles. Both banks do not take extra fees/commission on withdrawals.
- Cusco being very touristy, there are more stores and hostels that accept credit cards. And people understand a little bit of English.
- I didn’t find the iPeru tourist office, but I found the office of Dircetur, rue Mantas, where I could ask a lot of questions to very competent people (be careful, the Google Maps address is wrong)
- In Cusco, you will feel like a living ATM. It’s normal, don’t be afraid and move away from the city center. Go to the San Pedro market and you will feel better.
- Don’t hate those who accost you in the street, they aren’t intermediaries, they are often employees of a travel agency or the boss of the massage center.
- Fake cabs don’t have a company phone number on their head, just a “TAXI”, real cabs have a phone number and a cab number. Negotiate the fares before getting on them
- The colectivos (shared cabs) are the most economical way to get around Cusco. Each destination has its own “colectivo cab terminal”, ask at your hotel or at the Dircetur
- Watch out for women with a baby llama in their hands, you’ll have to pay for every picture you take.
- For the same tour you will find completely different prices. The difference is in the small details: food (included or not, better quality or not)… so before you scream scandal, compare the services. In general, you get your money’s worth.
- The advices concerning the transport to Machu Picchu can be found here.