5 Essential Tips for Traveling to Cusco, Peru
Honestly, I can hardly believe that I'm back from our absolutely amazing trip to Cusco, Peru! When we booked our flights, the main thing we knew about Peru at that time, was Machu Picchu. We didn't know all about their extensive history and culture, their fresh and delicious food and produce, their incredible architecture and engineering... we fell in love the moment we arrived.
As some of you know, my travelling buddy and husband, just recently had surgery for a chronic illness, so we decided for this trip, that we would go on a private tour that would handle all our travels and transportation. While it seems like taking the adventure and the fun out of our trip to Peru, we decided afterwards that this truly helped us have a stress-free trip! Plus, we got to enjoy the best of Cusco and learn all about their history and present stories, directly from a local. It truly felt like we were travelling with a friend.
Cusco is the main historic city that most travellers head to prior to going to machu picchu. It's best to fly here from Lima, the capital, as it only takes one hour, vs. getting on a bus ride for 24, windy and rocky hours. To get to Machu Picchu, you would take a car or bus ride, or a train ride to get there.
Tip # 1: Travel Light!
Regardless if you're on a tour or not, I personally didn't think that Cusco was a luxury, relaxing vacation. In fact, our entire trip was filled with tons of early (like 3AM early) wake-up calls. I highly recommend travelling light. A lot of people back-pack coming to Peru, so that's great for them. But if you're just travelling to sight-see, taking a carry-on sized luggage is best because a typical trip to Peru would mean staying in multiple hostels / hotels, lots of bus rides or flights, so having a manageable luggage is so helpful. Additionally, this also means if you can carry on your luggage instead of checking it in, that would be a huge stress reliever as you never know if your luggage would make it.
Tip # 2 Bring altitude-sickness medicine
Especially if you're coming from a sea-level city, like Vancouver. You can get it by going to the doctor and asking for a prescription. In Canada it was called Diamox, and you can get a generic version of it as well. Personally, while I took it only for a few days because I knew I wasn't going to be affected by it, I saw quite a good number of people affected by altitude sickness and that totally ruined the first couple of days of their vacation. Cusco in particular has really high elevation, it's a little lower in the Sacred Valley and in Machu Picchu, but it's better to be safe than sorry. There's also coca tea in most of the hotels and hostels, and it's available everywhere. While they say it helps with altitude-sickness, I think it also helps to make people happier in general so they forget that they're not feeling too great, haha!
Tip # 3 bring a jacket
I quickly discovered that due to the high elevation of Cusco and surrounding areas, at nighttime it's considerably colder, just like if you're in a desert. Peru is still fairly close to the equator, but because it's so high up in the mountains, the positioning of the sun doesn't really affect it much. Cusco in itself isn't that rainy, especially during the dry season - it's fairly dry and dusty all the time. But it's a completely different story for Machu Picchu, which is more jungly and rainforest-y, so it's best to have a jacket on hand as it rains sporadically throughout the day.
TIP # 4 WEAR LONG-sleeves and PANTS AT MACHU PICCHU
I can't stress this enough! At Cusco, there were no flies or bugs that we could really see, but at Machu Picchu, they had these nasty sand flies, or some kind of gnat or bug that just LOVES to feast on foreign flesh. And of course, some people like my husband are much more allergic to these bites, and so he's had a week of itching fun. We put on tons of mosquito repellant / bug spray, but it just didn't work. I was wearing long pants and a jacket and I didn't get bit!
Tip # 5 Learn a little bit of spanish
This will really help you enrich your experience in Peru. Months before we left on our trip, I downloaded Duolingo on my phone and I tried to learn as much Spanish as I could. grew up in the Philippines, where it was also a Spanish Colony (however most Filipinos nowadays no longer speak Spanish because when the Americans arrived, they tried to get rid of Spanish in our education as well), some of our language still has a lot of Spanish influence. I at least knew the basic sentence structure, my numbers, basic questions like "How much is this?" and "Where is the bathroom?" - and these really helped me while I was shopping in the markets or ordering in the restaurants.
While wandering around the markets, I also noticed that a lot of sellers would claim their items are "Baby Alpaca". Seemed to be the going-term. However, I learned from visiting the alpaca centre that most of the fabrics sold in the markets, especially when they're super bright - they are synthetic - which isn't bad if you don't mind what it's made of. True baby alpaca is cold to the touch, and natural dyes typically aren't very brightly colored. That's just another tip would love to share.
And that's a wrap! We can't wait to tell you more about our trip, but we'll save that for another time.