Getting to Cusco brought us an enormous satisfaction feeling. After all, the entire “South America” trip had actually one destination: Macchu Picchu. And, although the hiking to get there had not started yet, Cusco is the starting point.
But, as a matter of fact, Cusco is way more than that. It is a lovely town, and the most important one after Peru’s capital, Lima. It has less than 500k inhabitants that welcome around 2 million visitors yearly. This is a bit of my perceptions from my 2005 diary:
“Cusco is really a beautiful city, but very touristy. We stayed at a great hotel, Felix, that’s close to Plaza das Armas and at the end of a busy street with restaurants and shops. There is always someone outside the businesses inviting you in for a desayuno, almuerzo or cena. The merchants here are so insistent that are annoying. The cholas selling their artifacts are the worst, they even try emotional manipulation! “Señorita, 30 soles, señorita. 20 soles? 15 soles, señorita. Quanto quieres pagar (how much do you wanna pay), señorita?”
The Cholas are the Peruvian women dressed on their typical outfits, with the emblematic Inca style, and they are sweet and kind, but yes it was so annoying that at some point I stopped getting into the markets. They would say things like: “I haven’t sold anything today” for you to really feel bad.
We were on such a tight budget that on that first day we didn’t even lunch at a restaurant; instead, we bought snacks and ate sitting on the fountain steps of the main square. Plaza de Armas is amazing; it’s big and ample with colonial Spanish architectural design. Buildings have stone arches and walls, with wooden second-level balconies, and the two beautiful cathedrals complete the grandiosity of Cusco’s old town. It is the perfect and vibrant meetup spot where everything happens. We were staying at two different hotels, and we often went separate ways, but it was just a matter of hanging out at the plaza and we would encounter again.
That same afternoon we figured out our tour to get to Machu Picchu. The conventional one, known as Inca Trail, was fully booked (they have a limited number of visitors as they go through ruins), so we already knew before leaving Sao Paulo that we were going for the alternate one: Salkantay Trail. We couldn’t find the guys from the agency we had reserved in advance, but we found another one that was actually gonna be cheaper: from US$160, the price dropped to US$130. It was the biggest expense we were having on this trip. Oh boy, but how worth was it.
A sangria and a pizza later, we went to bed. Tomorrow, at 4:30AM, the real trip begins.