Cusco, Peru – Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

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Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley and a city in the Peruvian Andes, was once the capital of the Inca Empire and is known for its archaeological remains, Spanish colonial architecture, and touristic megaplex founded in the 11oos.  The Plaza de Armas (yes every town in Peru has one) in the old city or "historical district" is one of the highlights of this city even though it is wrought with hawkers looking to sell you everything from massages to tours and bracelets to anything else you can think of buying.   The baroque Santo Domingo Convent was built on top of the Incan Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha), and has archaeological remains of Inca stonework still to this day. We also visited the iconic San Blas street where old Incan architecture can still be seen with it's narrow passage ways and perfectly fit stonework without mortar.  The elevation of Cusco is at 3,399 meters which is about 11,150 feet.  Getting acclimatized to this place was a process that started in Arequipa.  With a population over 500,000, Cusco is a bigger city than we thought it would be and after careful deliberation we decided to stay higher up on the hill at a place called the Wild Rover Hostel.  
 

 

 

The Wild Rover Hostel - Cusco

Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

The Wild Rover Hostel - Cusco

After getting to Cusco, we could immediately feel the effects of the altitude.  Breathing is simply harder to do.  The simplest of tasks like walking or carrying your bags exhausts you at times.  The good thing is, that even though it tires you quickly, you recover quickly as well and we learned that slow and go is the way to go.  We chose to stay at the Wild Rover Hostel which is a "party" hostel chain located on in the Santa Ana neighborhood overlooking the city high up on the hillside. It was a nice hostel that had decent accommodations and safe lockers for us to use.  There were nightly "party" events like trivia night (which we took 3rd place only 2 points behind 1st) beer pong, and other party things.  The irish bar is the party funnel. No other partying exists outside the bar/restaurant.   

The food was good and relatively inexpensive at the bar/restaurant and the views of Cusco from the restaurant and balcony were spectacular!  We enjoyed ourselves here, however ran into a few snags that made this hostel only good not great.  All cash... yes you heard it... all cash.   No credit card processing?   Hmmmm.  It's my experience that a chain of hostels with this much money coming in would offer something as simple as credit card processing.   It's also my experience that any substantial business that operates only in cash... is shady.  You be the judge.   Strike two for the hostel was the lack of activities that didn't revolve around the bar/restaurant... another cash enterprise.   There didn't seem to be anything going on anywhere in the hostel but the bar.  That got old after a day or two.  Lovely grounds and highly under-utilized.  Strike three for the hostel was when I went to pay.  The only ATM at the hostel took my card, began to process my transaction said it was spitting out money, but no money came out.  I then got my card back and no proof that I ever got money.  I then checked my account and sure enough..... the money was taken. 

When I brought this up to the manager Paolo, he said this happens from time to time and he is mostly sure I will get my money back.  As of today... I haven't.   So I had to use my dollars which they only gave at 3 soles per dollar (going rate is 3.25 per dollar).  I rose a stink and got them to honor a decent rate in changing dollars.   Other than the three strikes, we enjoyed ourselves and thinks it a good hostel... not a great one. 

 

 

The Plaza De Armas

Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

The Plaza De Armas - Cusco

The Plaza de Armas was the main area in the central part of the historical district of Cusco.  The rest of Cusco is well... a city.  We would trek down and consequentially back up the steep hill called the Cuesta De Santa Ana which is a cobblestoned road with stairs on both side.  We would huff and puff back up the stairs taking frequent breaks.  Once getting down... we loved the plaza save it be the endless barrage of hawkers trying to sell us stuff.  There was a Starbucks we would get coffee at and sit and people watch in the Plaza.  It was a beautiful place full of people from all over.   The main church of Santo Domingo and the old Incan Sun Temple on the corner of the square also had a wonderful park and beautiful scenery.  We would go down daily and explore the many parks and streets of Cusco which are simply special to see and make the trek back up to the Wild Rover hostel up the Cuesta De Santa Ana.   Ok, not all the time, sometimes we would take a cab.  

 

 

San Blas Street - Cusco

Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco, Peru - Gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

San Blas - Cusco

San Blas is a neighborhood of Cusco with weaving streets that curve to adapt to the land. Foundations of carefully architected stone work made by the Incans remain, but colonial style homes constructed from adobe grow out of them. San Blas’s architecture has become synonymous with traditional Cusqueño architecture – pretty doorways, narrow passages, small balconies and windows set in brilliant white walls with red tiled roofs.

No two streets in San Blas look alike. Climbing the hills and stairways of San Blas will put to the test your body’s "acclimatization" to the altitude.  It sure did ours.  We had to take it slow and take frequent breaks. 

Once reaching the top we sat around the church of San Blas, completed in 1562, but destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in the 1650s. The church is just another Peruvian profit-machine for the Catholic Church of Cusco who have turned it into an expensive tourist attraction. Before the turn of the century in the 1600s, Manuel Mollinedo y Angulo, ordered a new pulpit to be carved from cedar creating one of the finest ever created in Peru’s vice-royalty and beyond. We refused to pay the entrance fee and sat admiring the plaza outside instead.  I guess you've seen one pulpit, you've seen them all. 

What amazed us was the stone work on the narrow passages of the streets that didn't have mortar yet fit perfectly together.  Sitting up on the hill overlooking the unique neighborhood sipping our Starbucks was a highlight of the trip to Cusco.  We loved this part of town even though walking the hills was not easy and took us a while to get up there.  

 

 

Change in Perpsective

Change In Perspective

We liked Cusco and we didn't.  Despite our hostel faux pax and the altitude (we never got sick however), the city was a tourist trap.  Peruvians have to learn not to hound tourists as they do.  It got really annoying walking in the city center.  Constant barrages of beggars, sellers and prostitutes disguised as massage therapists, left a sour taste in our mouths.  We would have loved the city otherwise.  We couldn't wait to get out of the city after spending a few days there. 

Overall, Cusco was beautiful but the beauty of a place can get tarnished with the the tourism industry.  We have seen this time and time again.  A beautiful place that is smeared with commercial greed and constant hawking.  It's sad for us to see.  A city with such rich cultural heritage and beautiful architecture can seem less beautiful with it's people and how they treat tourists.  Granted, they are trying to make a buck, but it can be done without shoving it in your face every 5 minutes.   We sat one afternoon at a cafe and had no less than 30 hawkers stop at our table to sell their wares, some aggressively, not taking no for an answer.  This hurts tourism as many travelers feel this is a criteria for not returning to a place.  After all, it's not the place but the people and how you are treated that makes a place truly special or annoying.  

Cusco Gallery

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