We actually made two trips to Cusco (deliberately, unlike Salta) and spent a total of four nights in Cusco Plaza Hotel 2: two nights before the Inca Trail and two nights after.
Cusco is one of the larger cities in Peru with 500,000 residents in the city and around 1,000,000 residents in the region.
Cusco is known as the worlds belly button because of its geography in Incan times. The Incan empire covered most of the West side of South America and was divided into four quarters. Each quarter had a capital city but Cusco was the capital of the whole empire. Pachacuchek was the first Inca to start building principal buildings in the city and now there is a statue of him in the centre of the main plaza in front of the main cathedral.
However, when the Spanish arrived, they discovered Cusco and wanted it for themselves. When the first Spaniard, who’s name I didn’t jot down, found gold and silver in Cusco, he returned to Spain and asked for men to help him retrieve it. The Spanish authorities weren’t keen on believing this guy and sending all their best men to a new world, so they gave him 127 prisoners. The problem with this grand new world was that everyone wanted to be in charge of it: so a civil war broke out between the Spaniards. Eventually, Simon Bolívar (who I mentioned in a previous blog post) came second and instead of more fighting, he was permitted to make his own land and that is how Bolivia was born.
At first, the Spanish were received as guests but that soon changed and the Spanish started to impose their way of life. They stole bricks from Incan buildings to make churches and cathedrals and enforced Catholicism throughout the region. Even today, many of these churches are still in use and people are predominantly Catholic.
Dennis took us for a walk around the city, teaching us a bit about its history and also pointing out his favourite places to eat and drink. We wandered down a few roads that had remains of Incan walls and 500 years later they are still standing strong! They are built at a slight angle to make them earthquake resistant as the Incas knew about tectonic plates and the risk of earthquakes in the area. The Incas were amazing architects and in one of the walls you can see the shape of a snake and a puma. There was also a condor but the Spanish removed these bricks. These three animals represent the three levels of life; the snake is the underworld, the puma is the current life and the condor is the afterlife. Once we walked up a hill, Dennis could show us how the city was originally built in the shape of a puma with the main square as its belly button (see how clever this all is now?)
After a rest, most of us went for dinner in a restaurant that Dennis recommended called Papa Cho’s. It’s specialty is burgers and for £6-8 you get a huge burger and huge side and it is good food! They also have excellent wifi so I managed to save a couple of hundred photos to onedrive. You can also ask for crayons and draw on the tables. A few of us decided to go for a drink afterwards and we headed across the road to Norton Pub and played some pool.
The next day, after a great lie in, Ammun, Milou and I went to Qorikancha Temple which was also known as the Sun Temple due to the fact that its 4 walls used to be covered from top to bottom with gold sheets and plates. It is now a beautiful church, convent and museum together with gardens that still show old Incan ruins. In the museum we learned a lot about the Incas. The empire ran from 1438-1532 and their language was Quechua which is still spoken today. The Incas were talented warriors, politicians and architects and a lot of what they created still stands today. Also in the museum there was an art gallery of mostly religious paintings. The Cusco School of Art provided most of the portraits in the gallery and they are all based on religion. It was believed that art was a way of religion reaching out to the illiterate who were unable to read the bible.
While Ammun and Milou continued to stroll around the city, I took my crippled back to Cusco Therapeutic Massage that was ranked quite high on Trip Advisor. He was an English guy called Daniel and I paid US$55 for an hour and a half and he fixed every single muscle in my body ahead of the Inca Trail. He also taped my shoulders down for me which I was going to attempt myself and he gave me some extra tape to keep me going. I would highly recommend him if you want a good sports massage before or after the four day trek. There are women all over the city shouting at tourists asking if they want a massage for only 25 soles (about £5) but I can imagine they’re just the tickly kind of massages that don’t actually do anything good.
After my massage I met up with Ammun and Milou again and we went to another place recommended by Dennis: Jack’s Cafe. It’s reasonably cheap with super speedy service and we all enjoyed some Mexican food for lunch.
As lunch was quite late, we headed back to the hotel for a rest and to hear the plans for the next day. Most of the group went to a restaurant just down the road called Mr Soup but we wanted some traditional Peruvian food so we went to Nuna Rayani. Ammun had lomo saltado (salted loin with vegetables and rice) and I had alpaca steak with mash and vegetables and some spicy sauces (on the side obviously – I’m not that much of a changed woman yet!). I think that meal was the best meal I’ve had since I left England it was so beautiful! I also ate quite a bit of Ammun’s which was almost as good. If you’re in Cusco, this is the place to eat!
Whilst we were eating, we were receiving loads of messages from some of the Australian members of the group telling us to go to Wild Rover and drink with them as it was Australia Day. At first we weren’t sure but then something switched and we downed another glass of wine at the restaurant before heading to this hotel bar. We walked in to a bar filled with loud music, loads of yellow ‘singlets’ (tops to me and you) and drunk people dancing everywhere including all along the bar! By this point, everyone had gone home drunk except Lesley so the three of us continued to drink until Lesley went home drunk and then Ammun and I stayed late into the night. It was a mental night with free vodka jelly shots being thrown around the room by the bar staff and fireworks outside.
The next day I was hungover. Very hungover. I loved Australia on 26th January. I did not on the 27th January. I powered through anyway and a group of us went up to see Christo Blanco at the top of the hill. From here we had some amazing views of the city. The white Christ is a replica of the famous one in Rio De Janeiro but there are big fences around it and then a big light right in front so sadly, it was a bit of an anticlimax. On the plus side, we played with lots of puppies on the way up!
After the Christo Blanco, we took a different route down via some more Incan remains. You have to pay to enter these so we just looked from the outside. It blows my mind that 500 years ago, men (and possibly women too) were able to move and carve and arrange this humongous stones to make such study buildings. Of this Incan temple, it is assumed that only 20% of the original temple remains.
We arrived back from the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu about 7pm and all dived straight for the showers. It was so nice to be able to stand naked in a shower and just be washed rather than sitting in a tent in my bra and try to wash my pits using a small bowl of warm water.
We all headed back to the same restaurant as before, Papa Cho’s because we all wanted big, hearty meals washed down with a cocktail. We stumbled out with big food babies half way into a food coma. We got back to to hotel, threw everything on the floor and passed out and had the best sleep ever.
I woke up about 8am which sounds early but I’d slept so heavily that I felt great. I snoozed a bit and spent some time catching up with everything that’s happened at home and in the media in the last 4 days. At 9.30 I left Ammun in bed and rolled downstairs for some eggs.
Later in the morning, a big group of us went to the Inca museum and it was so interesting to see everything after we’d seen Machu Picchu in real life. I’m currently writing so many facts about the Incas and the history of Machu Picchu in my Machu Picchu blog so I’m not going to bore you all with repeated facts. The museum made me really appreciate two things about my visit to Machu Picchu: one is that we could compare our pictures and memories to all the original pictures that Hiram Bingham and see that in over 100 years, not much has changed. It has been maintained pretty well and the areas that have been restored, look so true to how it probably was. The other thing we all appreciated was how amazing Kantu was as a tour guide. She had given us so much information and in such depth that we felt like we already knew a lot of the information in the museum. It was nice to see some of the artifacts that have been retrieved as well so we can really picture everyday life for the Incas.
In the afternoon, we were all knackered so went back and flopped on the sofas in the hotel. I had also grabbed an INCREDIBLE salad from Las Frescas which is a salad bar near the hotel. If anyone ever finds passion fruit balsamic vinegar, please please send it my way! I also finally got a chance to FaceTime mum and tell her all about the last few days. I’m so used to being able to talk to her whoever I want that going 4 days without being able to talk her is quite weird. I could have spoken for hours but I had a date with alcohol.
As we were so knackered the night before, we didn’t complete the 24 hour challenge of waking up at 3.15am and going to bed at 3.15am. We decided to celebrate the next day instead with some day drinking at Wild Rover again. It had a great view of the city from the balcony (with a rainbow!) and a special offer 2-4-1 sex on the beach cocktails so we were very happy! I’m not 100% sure what happened but somehow day drinking and playing pool ended up with goodness knows how many free shots, a lot of cocktails and most of us playing in a beer pong competition. There was more dancing on the bar like Australia Day and lots of shouting SOPA and AGUA CALIENTE (see my Inca Trail blog for that explanation). I think that although the bar staff and other travellers claimed to be heavy drinkers, the 18 of us plus Dennis and Rudy were the rowdiest and drunkest people in the bar. We started at 4.30 and by midnight I think 6 people had been taken home in a taxi so it’s safe to say we celebrated post-inca trail hard! At 1am, 6 of us found ourselves in a club playing all my favourite reggaeton music and dancing around my 2L bottle of water as it had no lid on.
Because I’d drunk most of that big bottle and slept for a good amount of time, I wasn’t too hungover. At our hotel, we were meant to check out at 9.30am but nearly all of us paid for late checkout and didn’t move until lunchtime. Ammun and I eventually crawled out and sorted ourselves out with a traditional Peruvian… McDonalds meal. We then did a little bit of shopping and came back and tried to fit it all in our bags. My stuff had been split between 5 bags so it was a challenge trying to sort it all out again and fit all my new souvenirs in but I just about managed it. We went out and stocked up on snacks and then got on a night bus to Arequipa. Arequipa has been having a lot of trouble recently with flooding and landslides so we all learned from the incident a few weeks ago and stocked up on loads and loads of water and snacks. We were ready this time!
Ive really enjoyed Cusco and there’s a good amount of stuff to see, do and learn so I would happily return.