Cusco. Standing on 3,800m High, Literally.

Standing on 3,800 meter above sea level in Cusco, Peru. Admiring Inca heritage sites, Spanish-style cathedrals and Peruvian food – while beating the altitude sickness.

26 comments

Cusco… and the Altitude

Cusco #24Never had I thought one day I would be here, in Peru, getting ready and excited to see the magical Machu Picchu with my own eyes (check out: Pilgrimage to City in the Sky). The legendary Inca heritage was abandoned in the 16th century, and then preserved and covered in the jungle until it was once again discovered by the American explorer, Hiram Bingham. The ruins left so many treasures and insights about the Inca’s way of life, and today tourist flooded into the site around the world that require the authorities to set a daily visitor’s limit (and I heard they changed the rules for visiting time yet again this year, so please keep up with the news).

One thing that may concern you (and me) is the altitude sickness. It was the first time that I traveled to a place located over 3,000 meters above sea level – the threshold for altitude sickness reaction (and yeah, I had even gone up to 5,000 above level when traveling across Chile’s border to the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia, but that’s another story). In fact, Machu Picchu was not the problem because the site is “only” 2,800 meters above sea level; and its nearby town, Agues Calientes, is a bit lower. You will be fine when you are there. The problem is, to get to Agues Calientes, you have to go through Cusco, the major hub that connects you to Machu Picchu from the outside world, and Cusco is situated on 3,399 over sea level. It’s almost impossible to avoid Cusco during your trip to Machu Picchu, plus, the historic city has quite a lot to see as well.

Cusco #8

Luckily, I was prepared and didn’t suffer much from the altitude sickness symptoms. Let’s explore Cusco!

Cusco #15

Cusco, or Quechua in Peruvian dialect, means “belly button”. It has been the political center of the Inca Empire before it was conquered by the Spanish back in the 16th century. Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley remained a major agricultural and religion hub under the Spanish rule, and cathedrals were built on top of many Inca architectural foundations. The famous Inca trail also starts here, and it takes about 4 days through the Salkantay Mountains to reach Machu Picchu. It is ideal to visit there from April to September, the dry season offers a comfortable environment for tourist to explore the valleys, as well as a better chance to have a great view of the Machu Picchu with a clear sky.

Plaza de Armas

The size of the city is not big. There are a few main streets and most of the historic attractions in the city could be reached on foot. While I recommend exploring the rest of the Inca heritage sites by joining a guided tour, which tourists may cover them in a day. However, many tourists may end up spending more days in Cusco because there are so many more natural wonders to explore the mountains and valleys. The Vinicunca “Rainbow” Mountain, for example, is a multi-colored rock formation a few hours away from the city (and it’s 5,000 meters above sea level).

The Plaza de Armas is the focal point of the city and where locals and tourists would hang out, or just chill. The plaza has a fountain and flower bed, and it is surrounded by cathedrals and elegant mansions with arches, and balconies.

Cusco Cathedral (La Catedral)

The Baroque style architecture is my favorite building in the plaza (maybe because I had my favorite photo on the trip taken there). The cathedral was built with the rocks taken from Sacsayhuamán (which you will read more about this place below) and took a hundred years to complete.

Church of the Society of Jesus (Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús)

Another perfect example of Spanish Baroque architecture in Peru; go inside, because if the façade of the church has yet to amaze you, the altarpiece may impress you even more.

Cusco #22

Qorikancha / Convent of Santo Domingo

Qorikancha / Convent of Santo Domingo is probably the holiest building in the Inca Empire – Qorikancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun, was torn to the ground when the Spanish conquistadores invaded Cusco; and then a convent was built on top of the Qorikancha foundations, while a lot of original temples remained.

Twelve-angled stone

Walking along the Calle Triunfo in the north of the Cusco Cathedral, I entered the Hatunrumiyoc. Both sides of the street are stone walls that were built by the Incas. One piece of giant stone, in particular, showcased the incredible architectural capability of the ancient Inca people – imagine how to chisel, cut, and measure a giant piece of stone so precisely that a twelve-angled shaped stone could fit the wall harmoniously with the others for centuries still not even a blade could penetrate the cracks? It’s waiting for you to find out.

Cusco #14

Walk up, to the San Blas Temple, where handicraft shops, restaurants, galleries, and souvenir stores filled the allies, and you could enjoy a better view of the Plaza de Armas at a higher point (as if we were not high enough).

Cusco #9

What is Antisuyu?

Cusco #13Antisuyu was the eastern region of the Inca Empire and was located northwest of the Cusco in the high Andes.

Sacsayhuamán

There are 4 key heritage sites around Cusco’s city center. I mentioned earlier, it would be easier to explore these places in a guided tour, or hire a driver (because you are at a risk of getting rob walking up to these sites). The fours sites are minutes away from each other and as we drove up, we are reaching higher and higher above sea level. If time is limited that you can’t visit all four places, go to Sacsayhuamán. This is the most popular site that was built by an enormous amount of rocks by the Incas, acted as a citadel for defense. The Spanish removed the stones here for cathedrals, temples, and houses in the colonial times – today, only one-fifth of its original scale remained, yet it was still impressive. I could still get a glimpse of the zig-zag shaped stone walls, altars, and citadel and imagine what it was like in the ancient time. At the top of the wall, standing on almost 3,800 meters above sea level, I had a panoramic view of the entire ground of Cusco. That’s where I took the cover picture of this post.

View this post on Instagram

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru. #cusco #peru #heritage

A post shared by Knycx journeying ✈️ (@knycx.journeying) on

Q’enQo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay

Q’enQo is a cluster of peculiar shaped rocks and caves, while altars, amphitheater, observatory, and other functional sites filled in between. Puka Pukara is an ancient pit stop for travelers, and traders in the ancient times. Tambomachay is related to water. The Incas worship water, as they believe water is the origin of life. At the entrance of Tambomachay, spring water keeps coming out from the altar which was used for cleansing in religious ritual. The origin of the water is still unknown, and archaeologists couldn’t fully explain the sophisticated water transportation system that Incas built.

Cusco #18

Food

Many Peruvian cuisines that one could be found in Lima (Check out: Yummylicious! Lima!), could be found in Cusco as well. If you are tired of the local cuisines, there are many cafes and restaurants in the city that offers Italian, American, or even Chinese dishes. I had some nice Buffalo wings one night at the local bistro with some iced tea, and there was a small café in the city center with a spectacular quinoa soup and I kept went back for more. The soup is made with quinoa, potatoes, wheat, and moraya – it was so comforting and I went there three times during my stay in Cusco.

The Market and Shopping!

Apart from the heritage sites (and sights). San Pedro Market is a great place to experience the local lives. Luckily, the high altitude didn’t bother me so much, and the market is about 15 to 20-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. There, the locals were running their daily chores in traditional Andean Clothing – the vibrant colors, capes, and hats were inspiring. If you are a healthy superfood fan, stock up! Chia seeds, maca, quinoa, kiwicha… which usually cost much higher in the supermarket, are on their ultimate sale in the Cusco market. I bought three bags of Chia seed for less than US$10 and they are great mixing in the morning shakes or oatmeal.

So, How to Beat the Altitude Sickness?

There are no clear rules (or logic) that who might have a reaction to high altitude. I met people suffered badly, and I met people who were just… completely fine. There are no clear rules that one will have a reaction or not. Having said that, don’t exert yourself just because you feel fine stepping out of the plane, syndromes might appear a few hours after you landed, and it’s always important to be safe and sorry, especially when you are traveling to a foreign country.

There are a few tips (and yes, I did them too) to help you accustom to the altitude.

  1. Ascend slowly. Altitude is something that you could get used to. Most people usually travel to Cusco by flight, but give yourself a day or so to accustom to the altitude before reaching to the higher ground.
  2. Take it slow. Don’t move vigorously, walk fast, or exercise once you get there. Plan for easy hiking or rest on the first day.
  3. Eat Smart. I was told the body takes more oxygen to burn fat than carbs. There’s no absolute answer, but your stomach would contract in high altitude that you might lose appetite or even throw up. Pace yourself and get more calories before you board your flight to Cusco.
  4. Stay hydrated. Fluids make sure your body functions well to regulate internal temperature and acidity. Bring a bottled water with you and make sure you have a drinking routine. Hotels or restaurants sometimes serve cocoa tea – the locals believe the herb could relieve the altitude reaction. However, cocoa leaves are illegal in many countries around the world (because it is the source of cocaine), so leave them in Peru if you get your hands on any.
  5. Skip alcohol. Yes, alcohol is a respiratory suppressant, and it dehydrates your body (which work against dealing with the altitude sickness). Better to avoid it.
  6. Take pills. For me, I find it the most effective – but of course, talk to your doctor before getting any medication from the pharmacy. You may need to start taking the medicine a day or two earlier.

26 comments on “Cusco. Standing on 3,800m High, Literally.”

  1. There is so so much history and culture in Peru. It seems like a warm place but so colorful at the same time. And hiking is probably one of the best ways to expereince a new destination. I liked how you have described the local cuisine. I am foodie myself.. Would definitely love going here one day😍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cusco was one of my favorite destinations in Peru – if not the favorite. I was to Arequipa and then to Puno before coming to Cusco so that my body already had adapted to the altitude – and Cusco is not as high as Puno, so actually, it was a relief. Visiting the surroundings is just surreal – sooo beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoy short Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu with Inti Sun Trek. This is the best choice for every tourist. Pick up and drop off facilities are also provided in Cusco. I was explored this place on my last vacation. Especially the Church of the Society of Jesus, interior and the structure of the building is so amazing . Its very to see you spend a wonderful time in here. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Susan for stopping by, I may not get back there so soon, but I wish to go back there some day and go hiking – maybe the hiking trails in Sacred Valley 😋

      Like

  4. I was there in Cusco 2 years back and I am so missing the place after reading your blog 🙂 I suffered quiet a lot from altitude sickness luckily I recovered within a day or two with the help of Ibuprofen and oxygen shots. Thanks a lot for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I really hope to explore Peru someday. I enjoyed this post on Cusco and also went to check out your Macchu Pichu post. Both are great guides to this area with a lot of useful information. I will definitely be making use of your altitude tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cusco, Macchu Pichu, and the Inca ruins are indeed the stuff of dreams. We hope to get there someday. But what we really identified with in this post was the altitude sickness at Cusco. Recently we were in Ladakh and travelled to a height of about 5360 metres, and could feel the shortage of oxygen so much. It was an effort to bend down and get up too. Your tips for combating the effects of altitude sickness make a lot of sense. Ascending gradually and taking it slow as well as giving time for acclimatization is very important.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the info. We did tried many delicacy when we where in Lima last time. We went to Central Restaurant in Lima and Malabar, it was delicious:) We tried other restaurants as well and we had a guine pig.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.