When I woke up this morning at 5:30 am, I did not feel like I had only gotten 3 hours of sleep. I was excited to finally begin the three day journey through the Peruvian Andes that would take us to Machu Picchu by Friday. Cuzco, our first stop in the district, was the historical capital of the Incan Empire and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Historical Site in 1983. It is a major tourist destination in Peru and receives over 2 million visitors a year. Cuzco has also been designated the Historical Capital of Peru.
Our flight to Cuzco was quick and uneventful. I planned to get some sleep on the one-hour flight but I made the mistake of sitting at the window and spent the entire time glued to it. The scenery was brown and rugged and even I, a person who doesn’t get nervous when flying, wondered what our chances of survival would be should something happen to the plane.
At the Cuzco airport, we were greeted by many booths offering all kinds of remedies against high altitude sickness – the nausea, headaches and dizziness that the lack of oxygen this high up can induce. From coca leaves to pills to oxygen shots, there was plenty to choose from.
We decided not to get anything yet, but even in the car on the way to our hotel we started to feel the effects of the altitude. Our throats started feeling constricted, and we were both getting slightly light-headed.When we got to our hotel, we got some coca tea – with the right amount of sugar, it was not that bad.
On the way to the hotel, we got a few glimpses of Cusco already.
As soon as we dropped off our stuff at the hotel, we headed towards the center of town where the main squares were. We first walked past Plaza San Francisco, where it took Nat exactly one try to take the most awesome jumping picture ever. She also got my jumping picture at the Park of Love in Lima on the first try – she is a pro! I was very happy, since I was already winded from the short walk and the one jump I had to do. We were both quite aware that we were going to have to take it easy today if we were going to spend 3 more days at this altitude.
Next, we went to Plaza De Armas. We ducked into a travel agency to reserve our Machu Picchu tickets, which we tried to do from the states but could never get the online payment to work. Afterwards, we enjoyed the sunshine at Plaza de Armas – a nice change from cloudy Lima – and picked a restaurant at the edge of the plaza for lunch. The restaurant had awesome balcony overlooking the plaza, and the view was as if taken from a postcard.
We had a choice of two exotic meats on the menu – alpaca and guinea pig. Not being able to bring ourselves to eat an animal that can be considered a pet in the US, we both opted for the alpaca. To me, it tasted like a milder version of goat. Mine was stuffed with cheese, asparagus and spinach and was super delicious. We also ordered an appetizer called Choclo con Queso – Peruvian corn (bigger, milder and whiter than regular corn) with cheese. We even tried the local staple – Inca Kola, which reminded me of some drink from my childhood in Bulgaria I couldn’t quite remember. It was one of the best meals in Peru I’ve had so far.
Later on in the afternoon, we were both getting quite weirded out by the effects of the altitude. Even the smallest incline or the fewest of steps caused our hearts to race and our heads to spin a little bit. We were pleasantly surprised that shopping may be the undiscovered remedy for all of this. We came out of the market near our hotel with hats and shirts and traditional fabrics.
For dinner, we headed to a restaurant called Don Antonio that features traditional Peruvian dancing as entertainment. We did try gunea pig after all, as dinner was buffet style and that was one of the choices. It tasted just like chicken 🙂 The dance performances were awesome. And on the way to the restaurant, I got a picture with a family with a baby alpaca. 🙂
We had a great first day in Cusco. We are looking forward to an early night before heading out to the Sacred Valley tomorrow.