We didn’t do too much sightseeing in Cusco. First, we only had about a day and a half in the city and second, I pretty much felt like I could not catch my breath the entire time we were there. I found myself really looking forward to getting back to sea level once we returned to Lima. This was a bit odd to me because I didn’t really feel this way at the higher elevations we visited in the Sacred Valley, some of them well over Cusco’s 11,800 foot elevation.
On our first day there we didn’t arrive until mid afternoon, had lunch, then had to deal with a bit of a hotel glitch so all we did was walk around the Plaza de Armas area a bit. We’d wanted to visit some of the churches but many were closed for Holy Week (the week before Easter). Also, we were a bit put off my steep entrance fees to the main Cathedral (almost $10). Fortunately, the next evening we were able to go inside during a service open to the public and part of the Easter Week celebration of the Stations of the Cross procession. We even got to hear the choir sing which was wonderful.
On day two we visited the central market and the Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha (covered by the bolleto touristico) where we could not take photos inside. Still, it was very interesting to see the history of the Inca there in the small rooms under a park in the city center.
We also walked around the San Blas neighborhood taking in its views and funky vibe and stopping for a beer in a small hostel with a fantastic view. This is a neighborhood filled with youth hostels and hippie kids who have “been out too long” trying to finance their travels by selling woven bracelets laid out on a blanket on the street. I found myself wanting to tell them to take a shower and go home to mama. Yeah, and “get off my lawn!” I kept my mouth shut, don’t worry.
Several times during this trip we found ourselves comparing Peru to Nepal. It wasn’t just the mountains, though yes, that’s a big part, but more of just a feeling. The same type of traveler who goes to Nepal, also goes to Peru. And with that follows the same type of tourism. There are a few streets off the main square which reminded us very much of Kathmandu, filled with travel agencies offering trekking tours, souvenir stalls, places selling hand woven goods, restaurants catering to budget backpackers. Aguas Calientes had some of this too, and in many ways is to Cusco as “Pokhara” is to Kathmandu in Nepal. The only difference is that in Peru you’re close to paying US prices for everything while in Nepal things are still much, much cheaper.
During our stay in Cusco, we spent one night at the Andenes al Ceilo and then moved to the Palacio del Inka, an SPG property. In general the Andenes is a decent hotel, but we had too many little things go wrong and decided to cut our stay short and move, using SPG points for our night at the Palacio del Inka. Our room there was quite small, but well appointed and the hotel is in a great location and in a really lovely historic palace building.