Cusco & Machu Picchu
Get lost in the magic, charm, and beautiful location of one of the world's highest cities! Located between the majestic Andean mountains, Cusco is an elemental stopover on your journey to Machu Picchu. Be sure to spend a few days here, however, to see all that the city has to offer. Take a stroll through the peaceful streets, exciting markets, and lovely historical buildings.
If you arrive to Cusco (often also spelled Cuzco) by plane, make sure you get a window seat. As you descend, you'll see this isolated city appear among an endless range of stunning Andean mountains. Cusco's atmosphere is a fascinating mix of modern Peru, previous Spanish influence, and the relics of the ancient Inca empire that ruled about 500 years ago. KILROY recommends that you spend a few days exploring Cusco and nearby areas. You won't find the world's biggest attractions there, but you'll enjoy a slow adjustment to the altitude and an introduction to Inca history. By spending a few days in Cuzco, you'll gain some historical and cultural background before heading toward Machu Picchu.
Home to over 300,000 inhabitants, Cusco is not a small town. However, the city center is quite small and easy to walk around in. Most of the social settings, like museums, shops, and restaurants, are located around the Plaza de Armas. In fact, Cusco has not yet been attacked by international chains, so each eatery will give you an authentic Peruvian experience (except for a few English and Irish pubs). For a relaxing morning, you can chill at a cafè, order a rich breakfast for $2-3, and enjoy the happy street life. Cusco offers a few nice cathedrals, churches, and museums that are all worth a visit, so you should spend some time walking around these. Cusco is unique in that it offers a historical mixture of the Inca and Spanish empires. For lunch in the city, try one of Peru's specialties: grilled guinea pig. Be sure to flush it down with a cold beer, brewed from corn! It may not be your most delicious meal, but when in Peru, eat like Peruvians!
Cusco has a few large markets that you should make time to visit. The selection of handmade products are quite good and the prices are ridiculously cheap. Bargaining is welcomed. At these local markets, you can buy alpaca-mittens, alpaca-slippers, alpacca-jumpers, and alpaca-scarves, to name a few. In other words, everything is made from alpacas! If you are a careful pakcer, you might also be drawn to the exquisite ceramics with handpainted Inca-patterns.
Cusco has a good selection of bars and clubs around Plaza de Armas, each with parties lasting until the early morning. Also, the best restaurants are the ones hidden between all the narrow cobblestone-streets. So, grab an ice cold Cusqueña and throw yourself onto the dancefloor! With flavorful food, low prices, and a fun environment, the night is a guaranteed success.
There are tons of cheap hostels and hotels around Cusco, so you can likely often find accommodation upon arrival. However, during busy periods, you might end up wandering the streets for hours. So, booking ahead is a good idea! Prices are low and dorms start at $5 per night.
Dry season lasts from about May to October with lots of nice and clear weather. Temperatures range from about 5-20C, but the nights are usually quite cool. Wet season starts in November and lasts until April, however, the heaviest rain falls between January and March. You should avoid trekking during these months if possible, as it might be a rather muddy experience.
Most visitors arrive by plane. Due to Cusco's climatic situation, nearly all flights operate during the morning hours. Additionally, a large bus station can be found in the city. From there, there are frequent departures to all major cities. KILROY recommends that backpackers fly from Lima to Cusco, as the bus ride is rather uncomfrotable and takes about 24 hours of travel on narrow, swinging roads. Additionally, you'll find both authorized and unathorized taxies in Cusco, so choose the ones with a telephone number written on their car. Trains operate from two stations depending on your destination. Tickets for trains, buses, and flights can all be purchased from the many travel agencies in town.
Hire a motorbike and head toward the steep roads that lead you out of Cusco. You'll be lead by a large, white statue of Christ on top of a hill. From there, you'll get the most astonishing view over the city and its surroundings. If you want, you can continue along the road past little villages, alpaca-farmers, and weavers.
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