Cusco: The Ancient Capital of the Incan Empire

The Peruvian Andes (7)

After my first night in Lima, I’ve decided to fly to Cusco. The city of Cusco is the second largest city in Peru and the closest major city to the country’s most famous and important archaeological site, Machu Picchu. Cusco also happens to be the ancient capital of the Incan Empire so it will have a different energy than Lima. Lima is a modern and cosmopolitan city whereas as Cusco kept most of its historical Incan heritage, and you’ll see it when you get there.

The flight from Lima to Cusco took about 1.5 hours. Both airports are relatively small, especially Cusco where there are fewer shops and food outlets. There are several taxis at both airports but be sure to negotiate a good price for fare. The drivers can easily tell if you’re a visitor and can take advantage of you.  To find out what the typical fare is from the airport to the hotel, contact your hotel prior to leaving and ask.

I felt a difference in the air upon arriving in Cusco. The weather was colder than Lima which required me to wear a jacket most of the time. The altitude in Cusco is significantly higher that Lima. The city of Lima, at its highest point is about 1300 feet above sea level, downtown Lima is around 500 feet. But the city of Cusco, because it is located in the Andean Mountains, has an altitude of over 11,000 feet. For people who are not used to this high altitude (like me), you will definitely feel some of the symptoms of altitude sickness which I did. Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness are light-headedness, nausea and breathing troubles. I experienced the latter. When experiencing symptoms like these, it is best to slow down, not to rush when exploring and rest as you need to.

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Another way to ease or rid of altitude sickness is to drink a local beverage called coca tea. Made from the leaves of a coca bush, many hotels and hostels in Cusco offers this as a complimentary beverage in their lobbies to guests. There are also some eateries and restaurants that offers coca tea to customers. This could help lessen or get rid of altitude sickness.  Worse comes to worst, some hotels have oxygen tanks ready for guests experiencing this ailment.

There are many hotels and hostels to choose from in Cusco. For my trip, I chose a small historic hotel by the San Pedro Market owned and managed by Carmelite nuns. There are also international chain hotels in Cusco for travelers who prefer familiar service and earn loyalty points.  It is best to book your hotel ahead especially if you want to stay in a particular area of the city.

There are historical sites at the city of Cusco however, most of it are from Peru’s colonial era. These historic sites are places such as public squares, colonial-style buildings, old markets, churches and cathedrals established here centuries ago by the Spanish colonial government. If you would like to see Pre-colonial historic sites, you need to venture out of Cusco and visit some of these places in the neighboring towns and villages.

There are many other things to do in and around Cusco so plan your trip accordingly. Depending on your interest, you will find some activity to do in this ancient city. There is a big difference between the cities of Lima and Cusco, and one will immediately see it upon arriving in these cities. Personally, I prefer staying in Cusco to experience and witness some of the Incan traditions still practice today.

Safe travels!

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