Unfortunately, our entry into Cusco wasn’t the best. Our plane had to turn around just as we were beginning our descent into the mountains (poor visibility) and return to Lima, refuel, re-crew and return (sadly without even a glass of water offered on the second flight, or any explanation). Luckily for us, even though we were hideously late (over 3 hours), the hotel pick-up was still waiting for us – good news. However, what wasn’t so good, was the altitude sickness that hit with a mighty thud (think of what it must feel like to be hit by a tonne of bricks, and it was something like that). Altitude sickness affects different people in different ways – some not at all, some get it mildly, and some, like me, needed boosts of oxygen – offered for free by our lovely, understanding hotel (it can be awfully serious if you have a medical condition – so do check with your GP before you go). Locals typically take cocoa leaves, or have cocoa tea – there are also sweets available – but I ended up taking Sorochi, medicine specifically designed to ease the symptoms of altitude sickness (dizziness, nausea and severe headaches) which can be bought over the counter at the pharmacies which dot the city.
There is much to see in Cusco. It’s a cute city with narrow, cobbled streets, surrounded by mountains and Inca sites. There are also lots of traditionally-clad women with llamas who willingly give you their llamas for a photo opp in exchange for a donation – when I say ‘willingly’, read ‘quite forcefully thrust’ their llamas into your arms with a wide grin – and who can say no to a cute and cuddly llama after all – even if it’s the third one you’ve cuddled that day?
We took a taxi to the main sites and bought a combination ticket that took in the main Inca attractions around Cusco:
Sacsahuman – the ancient complex of gigantic stones that were put together without mortar. Here we met a lovely couple of friends, who loved William and Kate (no, we haven’t actually met them), and who encouraged us to hug the magical Inca stones so that the ancient magic would re-energise us (I think it worked).
Q’inqu – a temple complex with a mystical seat made of stone, where you can wander round, duck your head, and enjoy the mystery of the site.
Puca Pucara – the red fortress
Tambomachay – Incan water – where Tipsy met one of her ancient Incan cousins.
They’re all well worth a visit, and can easily be combined into one afternoon.
Within Cusco itself, there’s the geometric wonder of the twelve-angled stone, Hatun Rumiyoc, which is located on a wall down a cobbled street. It’s apparently wedged in so tightly, that there’s not even a tiny crack between it and its surrounding stones (but we didn’t try to pull it out or anything).
We also visited the Inca museum, Museo Inka, which has a nice exhibition on Incan astronomy (they looked for the gaps in the milky way to identify animals, rather than look at the constellations), and Qurikancha, the temple to the Sun god which were once covered in gold, now in Santo Domingo.
On our return to Cusco after our trip to MP and were pleased to find that there were plenty of laundries where we could wash our clothes after our trek up Huayna Picchu (the one we chose opposite our hotel even delivered the clothes back to our room for us so that we could continue sightseeing). The lovely hotel upgraded our room and we had a nice stay now that we were fully acclimatised to the altitude.
Tipsy’s highlight was the ChocoMuseo, where Tipsy learnt more about chocolate, made new friends, and tasted quite a bit of chocolate too.