What started out as a post about Cusco quickly turned into a whole different matter. Basically, I’ve come to the realization that I need to be better about allocating my time when on quick trips. My normal formula for a 10 day vacation out of the country, which is common for anyone with a typical job, is leave on a Friday come home on a Sunday. Devote two days to flying, two days in the arrival city, four days on visiting the countryside, and two days in the departure city (if different than the arrival). Does this make sense? For instance, take Scotland…fly into and two days in Glasgow, drive around to visit the Highlands and Isle of Skye for four days, two days and fly out of Edinburgh. This seems to work well for getting a good taste of a country, but the problems arises when two-day stops are just not enough. My little taste of a city leaves me wanting more.
Now that I’m more flexible with my time I can linger in a place and it is wonderful. It's not easy (I have a hard time narrowing down my itinerary), but traveling slow is always better. Unfortunately my travel buddies aren’t always so lucky, and I often have to go back to dashing around a country. This topic comes up because I wanted to write a post about Cusco, Peru, and I feel that I don’t have enough to say. It was a quick stop on my itinerary before the main attraction, hiking the Inca Trail.
Looking back at my photos there were so many things I wanted to do in Cusco, but just didn’t have the time. I think a week would have been sufficient for a first visit. I know I’m fortunate that I get to have any time at all in these places, but I’m greedy and I always want more! So what did I do in my short time in the city?
I remember flying into Cusco and seeing the city tucked into the mountains. It felt secluded and like all the buildings had trickled down the mountains to settle at the base. The first day was actually spent right outside of the city. We visited the ruins at Saksayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman, I kid you not) with the most incredible view of Cusco, and some super interesting stonework. Those Incas could build like no other.
Also we made a stop at the Maras salt mines which were like nothing I have ever seen before. A massive system of small down slope ponds, which are fed from a small stream, and evaporate to expose salt deposits. It was fascinating to watch the workers harvest the salt. In addition, we visited and made a rough climb to the ancient agricultural terraces at Moray. Each terrace drops in temperature, and it is believed that the site was used to study plants at different elevations. The wonders of this place and ancient people never cease to amaze. This is a handful of the sites very close to Cusco. There are Incan ruins in the vicinity that would keep you busy for days.
The next morning was spent watching a small parade in the Plaza de Armas. I love a good parade. I can sit and observe people all day long, and that is exactly what happened on this particular day. I watched soldiers, children, and tiny dancers march to my hearts content, and then I moved to a coffee shop and observed them from above.
This day also consisted of eating lunch in the posh Belmond Hotel Monasterio. The hotel is located in an old Monastery, hence the name, and is a popular upscale hotel in the center of the city. Since we couldn’t stay at the hotel we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in the Illary Restaurant. It is set in a beautiful courtyard and included a lavish lunch meant to fortify us for the long hike ahead.
We also visited a local market, shopped for last minute hiking gear (it is very cold in July), ate at pretty great restaurants, and battled a migraine induced by the altitude. Overall a nice intro to the city. I would have liked to devote more time to discovering the local crafts. Next time I will research a great place to learn about the alpaca fur weaving methods and textile traditions of the region.
One thing I will never forget about Cusco is how every walk takes your breath away. Literally. Our lodging was located at the top of a steep hill, and required a strenuous hike everyday. Again preparing us for the trail. This uphill location allowed for a nice view of the city though, and we had access to a balcony at the guesthouse to enjoy it.
Even though I only had a couple of days in this fascinating city, I still feel like I made the most of my time. I hit the highlights, people watched, and filled my belly. The focus of the entire trip to Peru was Machu Picchu centric, so I have no regrets about that unforgettable journey. Next time I’ll take the train to Machu Picchu, and spend my extra days discovering a little more about Cusco.