Machu Picchu and Cusco, Peru
After spending a couple of days at Lake Titicaca, we took a flight from Juliacca to Lima, then a flight to Cusco. We arrived in Cusco about 3:30 in the afternoon and found the driver that the hotel sent to pick us up. Unfortunately, we only had 2 nights to see Cusco and a long day trip to Machu Picchu.
We arrived at the hotel around 4:30 and put our things away. The hotel was nothing fancy but was on the main square and close to everything. It was also only $22 a night, so we didn’t expect 5 stars. The room was comfortable with a bathroom, a nice bed, and a desk. After getting everything into the room, we went downstairs to the lobby. Our tour company was meeting us at 5 to go over the trip to Macchu Picchu the next morning and we had to pay the outstanding balance for the tour.
Walk Around Cusco
After our meeting with the tour company, we walked around the square and down some of the side streets. Unfortunately, we were still recovering from the altitude sickness from Puno, and Cusco is at over 11000 feet above sea level. There was an Irish pub around the corner, so we went for a quick meal and to relax. We sat by the window with a great view of the square and enjoyed our food. However, we could not finish our meal due to the loss of appetite from the altitude.
My sister had found a Cusco shop online that had a scarf she wanted us to buy for her. Luckily, it was not far from where we were staying. Therefore, after dinner, we tried to find the store to get her scarf. We walked up and down alleys and up multiple flights of stairs and finally found the place. There are a lot of dead-end turns you can make so we had to backtrack a few times. Unfortunately, they were closed either due to the time or COVID. Sadly, we returned to the hotel empty-handed.
About the Machu Picchu Tour
Since we wanted to be in Macchu Picchu when it opened, we needed to leave very early in the morning. The tour guide would pick us up at 3 AM for a 1.5-hour car ride to Ollantaytambo. In Ollantaytambo, we would then catch a 1.5-hour train to Aguas Calientes. That is where we met our tour guide for the trip up to Macchu Picchu. Macchu Picchu is a 20-minute bus ride up a winding mountain road. So a long day of travel to get things started. Although we could have booked all the pieces ourselves, we decided to use the tour company to make sure we didn’t have any issues with only 1 full day in Cusco to make the trip.
After the 3-hour car and beautiful train trip, we were finally in Aguas Calientes where we met our guide for Machu Picchu. He suggested that we grab a quick bite to eat while he got the bus tickets. Approximately 30 minutes later we were on the bus up to Machu Picchu. This bus takes a winding road up the mountain to reach the entrance area. If you are afraid of heights, this bus trip might be challenging! Upon arrival, we checked in with the ticket office and proceeded up the mountain on foot for about 30 minutes.
Even though Machu Picchu is only 8000 feet above sea level, it is still challenging if you are out of shape, and wearing a face mask. I did have some issues breathing. So, when we were not around others, I would remove my mask for a few minutes to catch my breath. After the short climb to the top (up a path) you are treated to a view of Machu Picchu that is unbelievable.
Machu Picchu is an amazing place to see and experience. One thing that was different for us was that normally there would be 5000 people allowed per day. Due to COVID, they limited it to 500. So it seemed as if we were alone and only had to wait a few minutes (if at all), for the best photo locations. Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. He spoke great English and said this was his first tour in 7 months due to COVID.
Things to Consider at Machu Picchu
You will need to have the following: good walking shoes, bug spray, sunscreen, and a hat. The total tour was about 2.5 hours and required going up and down stairs or walking on uneven paths. I did not bring bug spray and since I was filming videos my hands were exposed. About halfway down, I noticed that there were hundreds of small bites on my hands that were bleeding, I looked like a pincushion. Also, the sun can be very bright on the mountain, so a hat and some sunscreen will help protect you.
We completed the tour and headed back down to town. We said goodbye to our guide and went to have some lunch and do souvenir shopping. Our train back to Ollantaytambo was at about 3 PM, so we had around 3 hours to hang out in town. Since we were up early and only had a snack, we were hungry. Luckily, next to the market was a restaurant with a patio area, We decided that would be a great place to relax for a little while. They had an interesting menu, so I tried Alpaca tacos. I wasn’t brave enough to try Guinea Pig.
Back to Cusco
We boarded the train and started the trip back to Cusco. By this point, we were zombies and needed a nap. However, the views along the ride are beautiful with rivers, snow-capped mountains, and farmland. We reached the end of the line and walked up to the area where we would meet our driver. He was a few minutes late, and we contacted the tour company; he arrived about 10 minutes later. The drive back was nice and reminded me of the Western Cape in South Africa. You had mountains and large open plains with farms on them.
We arrived at our hotel around 6:30 PM and immediately went to the room. Since we still wanted to walk around and have a nice dinner we left shortly after arriving. There was a restaurant we wanted to try the night before next to the hotel that had very good ratings, but it had been closed. Luckily, it was open now, so we decided to go there. A great dinner with drinks was under $30 for both of us.
Unfortunately, there was one of those street merchants that target tourists outside the restaurant. He was there the night before when we were walking around and I said maybe tomorrow to get rid of him. The guy remembered me and came up to sell his paintings. I really didn’t want to buy anything and kept trying to walk away. He was a nice guy but just wouldn’t go away. The paintings were very nice but we didn’t really need one. However, since I couldn’t find the scarf for my sister, I decided to get her a painting instead. My wife and I looked at them and picked out one that we thought my sister would like and said we would take it.
Also, there was a painting we liked that would match our house, so we decided to use that to get a better deal for 2 instead of 1. My wife looked at the back of the paintings and they were almost 800 sol each. That would be over $400 for both of them. Being the entrepreneur that he was, a 50% discount was immediately applied to get us to buy. So I said, no I can’t do that, and started to walk away. He then dropped the price 3 more times and finally said $100 for both. We didn’t have a lot of Peruvian Sol left, so I said no thank you and walked away. However, he said he can accept USD or credit cards, and I did have some USD in my wallet. I gave him $100 and walked away knowing I was probably ripped off.
Our plans were to find my sister a scarf similar to what she wanted at the local Mercado the next morning. Unfortunately, not a lot of the stalls were open when we arrived. We walked around Cusco for a few hours trying to find the perfect scarf with no luck. Therefore, no scarf from Cusco for my sister; she will get a painting though. Maybe that would be good enough. After returning to Atlanta, I gave my sister the picture and she cried as it was perfect, so the feeling of being ripped off was gone. Also, a lot of these street vendors are probably hurting as well due to COVID. We only saw a few other tourists in Cusco, so were an easy target. What we paid for the paintings was about 25-30% of the average monthly income for someone in Cusco.
After we walked around a few more hours, our hotel called us a taxi for the airport. We were off to Lima for the next leg of the Peruvian 1-week trip. As with Puno and Lake Titicaca, we needed much more time to see everything. Our next trip to Peru will be more relaxing and longer to allow us to see the things we missed on this trip.
The Cusco and Machu Picchu areas are beautiful and worth spending more time in to enjoy the culture, food, and nature. There is a lot of poverty in Peru, and this area is not immune to that. Unfortunately, these areas are reliant on tourism that doesn’t exist at the moment. Even though we were lucky enough to enjoy it with fewer tourists, that does come with a price for the locals.
Please check out our videos from this trip on YouTube.