Peru – Cuzco, 03 June 2011

Hello, and good bye Lima. It was definitely a brief stay. We left Lima in the morning, and arrived in Cuzco in the late morning. First thing we saw? A huge McDonald’s sign, writing, “Welcome to Cuzco!” Peruvian Airlines was pretty decent, and we had food and drinks on the short flight, and could also check in our bags for free (cf. domestic airlines in the US).

The Cuzco Airport was quite a zoo. The moment we walked out, it just screamed tourist trap. We were approached by endless people, with a whole array of services to offer, from hotels, to airport transfers, to tours, along with the endless souvenir shops, just in case you were suffering from shopping withdrawal on the flight. We had a ballpark of how much to pay for our transport, so we just went along, and paid about 25 soles for a trip to our guesthouse in town.

We stayed at the Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta, run by Javier, that was about 15-20 min walk from the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco (i.e. the heart of Cuzco city). It was a nice home-y place with some interesting areas like a little garden, and a dining room (also the breakfast room) that was built to surround the garden. There is reportedly some recreation like pool tables on the second level, but we did not explore, as we stayed on the first floor. We paid 25 USD per night for the room for two of us, but were given a triple room instead (yay to more space!), and the price included an excellent breakfast, and an ensuite bathroom, which had hot water (you need that – it’s really cold given Cuzco’s altitude). Javier and his staff were also excellent for their recommendations for dining options, and also arranged tours and transportation for very fair prices. So don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

After leaving our stuff in our room, we asked for a lunch recommendation, as our tummies were rumbling, telling us that it’s time for lunch. Javier suggested Don Mateo, a restaurant across the street from Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta. It was quite charming, and there was a lot of light going into the restaurant, though it was sufficiently sealed to protect us from the cold. They also serve very hearty stuff, like heavy soups, and steaks. Knowing no Spanish, the two of us just blindly pointed. I think I ended up with a cream of chicken soup, while B had a cream of corn. No, it tastes nothing like the Campell version, so do give it a try. Our greed did end up being our downfall, as we had soups and an entree. Turns out, portions were huge, and the two of us made a valiant but futile struggle to try and chow down everything. In the end, we gave up. But at least we were full. I would say this place is about mid-range, as it came up to about 15 USD.

After our heavy lunch, we took the slow walk to the Plaza de Armas. Having heard all warnings about altitude illness, we weren’t trying to be ambitious, but we certainly wanted to get our tickets to Machu Picchu settled ahead of time, having read about the long lines at the gates of Machu Picchu. You can actually get tickets ahead of time in any travel agency (but not the official Peruvian Tourism one) ahead of time that will allow you to go to the gates of Machu Picchu, present your tickets, and not line up in Aguas Calientes for the ticket (more on that later).

Anyway, the way it works, when you buy it from a travel agency. They will give you the official price, and they might try to sell you a package. Depending on your budget, it could involve a coach ride all the way, or a combination of train and coach. Or whatever. We decided that we didn’t really want to deal with that, and also, we just wanted to be sure we have tickets, so we bought our tickets way ahead of time, online at the Perurail website. They also have a counter in the departure waiting lounge at the Lima Airport, and an office in Plaza de Armas, between McDonald’s and the Cathedral of Cuzco. You can try getting tickets when you are travelling in the off-season. Despite warnings about the train being filled up quickly, I did actually see some free seats both ways. I guess it might be because I was travelling in June? I am not sure if this is the low or high season.

More on buying from travel agencies. Anyway, they will let you know the official rate of what you have to pay, which is around ~50 USD, and you have to pay around 15 USD for the bus. After the official prices, they will give you a “suggestion” of their commission for securing these for you. You can negotiate their tip a little. When you are buying tickets, be sure to bring along your passport, as they will need a copy of that to purchase your ticket for you. Also, if you have an ISIC card, that will give you a substantial discount. All other forms of student ID are not accepted.

After getting our tickets, we decided to trot (real slow) back to our guesthouse. I always knew I had altitude illness, but it’s still a bitch when it hits you. No matter how slow we walked, I was still light-headed. We went back to sleep at like 3 pm, just to rest and get over it. My head pounded, and it felt like it was going to explode. Meh.

Our triple room in Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta

Don Mateo Restaurant

Steak with Garnish

One of the narrow alleys in Cuzco

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