Cusco – Peru
If you are thinking about it, just do it!!!
Travelling solo to South America is dangerous? yeah, nah, just do it!
Pros: Go wherever you want, whenever you want, do whatever you want, and change your mind 20 times a day. Expand your mind, challenge yourself, increase your confidence level, conquer your fears, read strangers better, trust yourself more, treasure silences, and understand your purpose.
Being alone is a journey, being a couple is a journey – it is not the final destination. Being a solo traveller is my current journey.
(Disclaimer: although my Europe trip was with another amazing girl, Glen, we had the solo traveller’s mind – wherever, whenever, whatever – when we didn’t have the same plan, we went our separate ways and met up for dinner. Halfway through, we even went to different countries then met again.)
Cons: some meals are for sharing, unable to go to the toilet because no one can look after your valuables (I’m trying to stretch this list but I can’t)
After 36 hours of flights and layovers (SYD-AKL-SCL-LIM-CUZ), I arrived in Cusco at 5am on 11th October 2017.
I met a passionate bird watcher, Happy, in the hotel’s restaurant while waiting for it to open. After a friendly chat and once the restaurant was opened for business, she generously bought me a cup of Coca tea (té de coca – Wikipedia) for a boost of energy. Later that night, I unexpectedly joined her and her friends for dinner; Melissa, Patty, and Rosanne. Melissa had generously paid for my dinner. Despite the jet-lag (Sydney is 16 hours ahead) and mild-altitude-uncomfortableness, my trip has started beautifully, filled with generousity from strangers.
The four beautiful ladies are grandmothers or have children my age or older, and WOW the incredible stories they told me. Melissa likes to wander and one time she wandered and came close to a grizzly bear, she was unaware of this ‘friendly’ giant, while the others saw this encounter unfolding from afar. They were in Cusco to relax after more than a week in nearby eco-lodges watching birds (~1300 species in Cusco area), they are full of energy and the jungles did not bother them. When I am older, I want to be as passionate and as full of energy as them, and to have a partner who can survive an alone time at home while I’m away with the girls.
Getting to know – week 1
I wandered around Cusco, getting familiar with the streets, the people and of course all the exit points (a consequence of having dated a federal agent :p). After two days, I felt comfortable enough to carry my baby (DSLR camera) around – still very cautious and walked away the moment I noticed someone approaching in my peripheral vision.
In the city centre, Cusco reminded me of Europe, especially Italy. Cobblestones everywhere, small streets all throughout, most cafes and restaurants serve American food – my challenge was to find a Peruvian restaurant in Cusco!
I walked everywhere from the hotel, I felt safer walking than trying to select a taxi that would be an official taxi. Other than the random dog poop (so many abandoned dogs 😐), the streets are very clean. Cleaners are everywhere, emptying the rubbish bins, wiping the bins, and sweeping the streets. Polices are everywhere, directing the cars, telling random street-sellers to move on, and helping lost tourists.
In contrast, outside the city, you will find piles of rubbish on the street, broken windows, and disorderly.
Back to the abandoned dogs. I assumed they are abandoned because they are proper breeds and not random cross-breeds. They are super calm (probably because of the high altitude), they don’t bark or try to attack anyone, and spend most of their times sleeping. At night, they feast on restaurants’ rubbish piles.
Confident – week 2
After a week of spending over A$12 on lunches and dinners, in city centre or just on the outskirt, I am now more confident enough to have my lunch at the market.
This is how I figured meal prices work by location (excluding fine dining restaurants):
- Plaza Mayor del Cusco (city centre) area – lunches are A$12 and over
- anywhere north of city centre (e.g. San Blas)- same price as in the city centre
- Plaza Regocijo (2 blocks south) – lunches are about A$8
- Plaza San Francisco (further 2 blocks south) – lunches are about A$4
- Then San Pedro Market offering a complete menu (soup & main) for A$2
Confident enough to catch a taxi, spot the licence sticker on the windscreen and the yellow sticker of the taxi number just above the back-wheel. Anywhere from the hotel to city centre is A$2, and A$4 for the uphill ride to Sacsayhuaman. It is pronounced “Sexy Woman”.
Confident enough to eat breakfast and lunches in San Pedro Market; avoiding chicken though.
Also, confident enough to accept a horse-ride tour from a random tour guide in Sacsayhuaman. He tried to con me but failed. In the end, it cost me what I was willing to pay for the horse-ride. I figured that I don’t actually need a tour guide to explore Sacsayhuaman.
Home for two weeks
While in Cusco, I stayed at Niños Hotel Fierro (They have two locations, one block away from each other, Niños Hotel Meloc is close to the city centre). where the room was clean and comfortable with white bedsheets (if you know me, you would know that I would be physically ill at the sight of bright coloured floral or patterned bedsheets). Everywhere around the hotel is clean, clean and clean. The staff are friendly and very accomodating. My only complaint was that the single bedroom is upstairs while the shared bathroom and toilets are downstairs; it’s a small hotel so it’s not gross as you may think – the bathroom is constantly cleaned. It seems that they read my mind because in the second week of my stay, the upgraded me to a double room that is next to the bathroom (score! I even walked back to my room in my summer dressing gown).
Most importantly though, Niños hotel is doing great things for the local community, “By choosing Niños Hotel for your accommodation in Cusco, you support the Niños Unidos Peruanos Foundation, as your support helps provide, for 600 underprivileged children of Cusco and in other villages, one to two healthy meals a day, medical and dental care, homework support, and a pleasant, caring environment in which not only to fulfill basic needs such as a shower, but a place to express their creativity.”.
At U$25 per night, this has to be the friendliest, cleanest and cheapest hotel I’ve stayed at.
Sunday is a rest day here in Cusco; I walked around with barely anything open or will open much later.
I have learned to rest, be slow and thoughtful. Slowly walking has given me a better survival rate – my learning from those abandoned dogs, they seem to sleep all day and walk super slowly. Apparently cats can’t survive in this altitude and that is the reason why I have only met one cat during this trip plus my Machu Picchu’s guide’s cat.
I have spent a lot of time resting and reading – finished reading One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Amazon). Everyday tasks and love stories made much more interesting by setting them in Rusia during Stalin’s time. Thanks Stephanie for the recommendation!
It looks like Quiet by Susan Cain (Amazon) is next on my reading list; mixed reviews on the book – it explains what introverts and being quiet mean but so what’s next? I know what my introvert tendencies are and I have been more than surviving in the world of extroverts. I guess it’s The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (Amazon)!
Also, I managed to attend what I thought was the 8am mass at Catedral del Cuzco (TripAdvisor) but it was the 7am mass finishing late. According to the notice board, they have 7am, 8am and 9am mass, but apparently not today – it was only 7am (it was a Census day). The mass was in Spanish but the spirit is the same.
The places I visited in Cusco
- San Pedro Market for fresh produce (meats, fruits & vegetables), market breakfast/lunch, souvenirs (alpaca products, tea, bags, sweaters, shawls, etc.) – my photos
- Healing House Cusco for yoga sessions and massages- website
- San Blas for a beautiful view of Cusco, there is a small market there too
- 12 Angle Stone is on the way to San Blas – it is a wall of Tetris!
- Plaza de Armas/Plaza Mayor del Cusco – the shops around here are high-end and mid-range
- Paddy’s Irish Pub – I had to visit the highest Irish Pub
- Limbus Resto Bar (TripAdvisor) – also known as Cusco View Point, for a great view of Cusco at night plus all kinds of Pisco Sour
- Norton Rat’s Tavern (TripAdvisor) – balcony seating for a good view of Plaza Mayor del Cusco but the place is not great for anything else (food, service, etc.)
- Hotel Plaza de Armas (Trip Advisor) – balcony seating for a good view of Plaza Mayor del Cusco with better service & cleaner place, the beer cost a dollar more
- Cappuccino Cafe (TripAdvisor) – balcony seating for a good view of Catedral del Cuzco and Cristo Blanco, good coffee, breakfast, and service
- Museo Histórico Regional (TripAdvisor) – I didn’t want to be all-museo-out so I picked the one with the best reviews and is included in Boleto Turistico/BTC.
First floor is of Inca history, and second floor is of Spanish colonisation with videos – worth a visit!
- Museum of Contemporary Art (TripAdvisor) – included in BTC.
This was a random museum – 1 room of 17 paintings and another room of 16 paintings and no artists’s names or titles.
- Museo de Sitio Qorikancha (TripAdvisor) – included in BTC, entrance is via Ave El Sol – another random museum of 5 small rooms; I did get to see skulls that were purposely deformed for social prestige. Don’t get it mixed up (like some TripAdvisor’s reviewers) with Qorikancha (TripAdvisor), entrance via Santo Domingo and a separate entrance fee of 15 Soles.
- Alpaca steak – Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse (TripAdvisor) – (A$48 for entree, main & cocktail)
- Cuy Chactado (Fried Guinea Pig) – Kusikuy (TripAdvisor) – (A$28 for a guinea pig that comes with side dishes, a meal for 2)
- Chicharron (deep fried pork) – Nuna Raymi (Trip Advisor) – a random find with a great service, delicious food and a responsible business model
- Picarones (Spanish Donuts) – Picarones Ruinas (TripAdvisor) – (A$2 for 4 Picarones) – the cafe has no signs, it opens after 5pm, it is at the corner of Ruinas & Tullumayo
- 30cm Churros (recommended by everyone I met) – near Santa Clara Arch in Plaza San Francisco
- Coca Truffle – La Cholita (TripAdvisor) – went there a few times 😀
- Choclo con Queso (boiled corn with cheese) – try it while in Sacred Valley, otherwise find it in the afternoon, near the exit doors at San Pedro Market.
- Helado de Queso (cheese flavoured ice cream)
- Arroz con Lechon (rice with pork) – the best one I had was at San Pedro Market
- All kind of soups, especially Peruvian soups – Mr Soup (TripAdvisor)
- Juices are about A$3 so if you are paying more, you are in the city centre
- Before any strenuous activities, spend a few days taking it easy to climatised
- Although it only affects 20% of the population, ask your doctor for altitude tablets, just in case. Otherwise, Té de Coca or Coca candies/toffee will help
- If mosquitoes normally love to suck the blood out of you, bring mosquito repellent
- Get the Cusco Touristic Ticket also known as Boleto Turistico/BTC for 130 soles (more information)
- If you have a limited time and don’t want to be all-ruin-out, visit Sacsayhuaman while you’re in Cusco. Visit Moray and Maras Salt mines then stay at Ollantaytambo to visit the ruin as well as the warm and friendly town.
- Considering how much a day tour with 20 other people cost, hire a private driver for about U$65. Maras is off-road and I was charged extra U$5
- If you have the time, Peru Hop from Lima to Cusco, stop at a few different places along the way for as long as you like, pick-up from your hotel, and tickets are valid for a year. Recommended by my new friends Roshan and Linda. I will definitely try Bolivia Hop at my next South America’s adventure.
Nearby places to visit:
- Machu Picchu (doh!)
- Sacsayhuaman, Qènqo, Tambomachay, PukaPukara
- Sacred Valley (Pisac, Chinchero, Moray, and Ollantaytambo are included in BTC) (Maras Salt Mines in not included in BTC)
- Rainbow Mountain – I didn’t go on this trip as it takes at least 2 days and it’s 5000m above sea level – a bit more exercise is required for my lungs to cope