My trip through South America so far landed me in Arequipa, the White City of Peru, and much of the southern coast.
Arequipa was one of my favorite cities so far in Peru. My journey was about to land me in the most picturesque mountain city that I could ever imagine, Cusco.
Cusco is the capitol of the Quechuan (Incan) Empire and is nicknamed the “Paris of South America”. Paris has a reputation for being charming, quaint even. Cusco, in those regards, has exactly that going for it. It’s my paradise, so to speak.
If anyone has known me through my travels, they know that I am a mountain guy.
I grew up in mountains and have always felt a certain comfort from them. That comfort has helped me feel at home in the most unlikely places.
In Cusco, not only are the Peruvian Andes surrounding the city, the city is built right into the mountains. There are paved streets that are built into steep hills and a lot of Cusco is quite a hike. Surprisingly, it’s been like that since the Quechuan people inhabited this sprawling metropolis but more on that later.
There’s really only one route into Cusco. The main road wraps around the southern coast near Arequipa, goes down to the border of Peru and Bolivia in the town of Puno, and winds through mountain sides to reach Cusco.
Most people opt to stay in Puno to break up the long, painful bus ride.
Unfortunately for me, I was so excited to get to Cusco that I ended up breezing through Puno, making for a VERY long bus ride.
If I did it over again, I’d probably try and stay in Puno for one night before getting back on the road like my good friend Jeremy did with his brother. There’s not a whole lot to do in this small town except to go on a boat tour of the famous Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca, the highest elevated navigable lake in the world.
Since I was going to make an attempt at crossing the dreaded Bolivian border by land, I had to cross through Puno later on. This gave me a chance to have more time in Cusco, which is where I really wanted to be at. Our bus passed straight through Puno, picking up Jeremy while passing through.
It was incredible seeing my friend that I spent an entire winter with at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
We caught up with how our respective trips were going and we were off.
You can find a bus company that offers extremely comfortable seats, even beds, for long journeys such as this that cost quite a bit more money. The company I used had the regular standard seats but the company supplied big, soft blankets and movies for the road. I would’ve loved having a seat that turned into a bed but the company did what they could to make us comfortable.
The bus ride would have been comfortable had it not been for the fact that we were driving through the Andean Mountain roads.
They twisted through switchbacks every hour. This made a few people slide out of their seats when the bus’s center of gravity would shift awkwardly around the corners. Most of the time, there was not anything the driver could do about it.
Sliding around your seat every so often made for an interesting night’s rest and an even more interesting bathroom adventure. The bus had a very small bathroom aboard. To take a piss while careening down the winding roads was a challenge, to say the least.
If you get motion-sickness, you should probably consider buying a plane ticket to Cuzco instead. The price for the plane ticket is reasonably priced and it saves you hours. Especially for one girl that thought she could handle the bus ride. She ended up spending a majority of the bus ride vomiting in the small, shanty bathroom from motion-sickness.
Eventually, the terrain levels out once you reach a certain elevation and the bus ride is a much more pleasant experience.
This is especially true when you time your bus to get into the valleys containing Cuzco in the early morning time.
The sunrise over the shimmering, misty mountains on the fringes of Cuzco’s perimeter was a memory I’ll likely not forget. The landscape was everything I imagined and a few hours out from being in the city, we were greeted with one of the most stunning double-rainbows I’ve ever seen.
Once we reached the main office for the bus company, they called all of us taxis and gave very specific instructions of where our hostels or hotels were. All of our bus companions split up into the city. My friend and I ended up at a surprisingly nice hotel (yay bargain deals on hotels.com!) about 10 minutes walking distance from the Plaza de Armas.
I was so excited to explore this gorgeous city.
Once my friend Panda and I got settled into our hotel room, I wandered through the city at night time trying to find my way to the Plaza de Armas. Jeremy and I had plans to meet for dinner with a nice Swiss couple we met on the bus. I was an hour early, of course, so I could wander the city center and peek into different wool shops.
The night was as clear as it could get, the air was slightly nippy, and the rolling mountains were shimmering with the twinkling lights of everyone’s houses. If you’ve ever been to Cusco, you know how rare a completely clear night is so I felt very fortunate.
There were several people in the plaza. This is the main meeting point for most people here. It is not uncommon to see a beautiful wedding or photoshoot taking place.
When I found Jeremy, we all went out to an awesome pizza place that had local craft beer.
I know. How American. How dare I eat pizza in Peru! However, the restaurant is owned by a couple that moved to Cusco from England. You could definitely tell it was geared towards foreigners, though.
Walking back to my hotel, it was hard not to notice how small the sidewalks were. As a big, tall American it was difficult to navigate around any of the locals. I mostly had to walk on the streets and stop when cars went by. Also, being so close to the traffic was a little unnerving at times.
The next morning, my friend Panda and I wandered the streets of Cusco.
We ended up in a coffee tour through the Peruvian Coffee Museum, the Chocolate Museum, and a city tour. It was led by a local grad student that included a free cooking class! We also bought our round trip ticket to Aguas Calientes.
We were going to have an early morning to catch our train so we headed off to sleep. At this point in the trip, I was definitely feeling the altitude. It is hard not getting winded at 11,000 feet. This makes you even more tired.
I will write another post about Aquas Calientes and our journey through Machu Picchu. It turned into an unexpected disaster. We ended up back in Cuzco a few days later incredibly tired and slightly frustrated. More on that later!
For now, here is my posts up until now in South America!
Also, check out this video of the train ride to Machu Picchu from my youtube channel and subscribe if you can!