Everyone warned us about the effects of altitude sickness in Cuzco!
Agh. I've been up to 5,416 m in Nepal, I've climbed Slovenia's tallest mountain Triglav which is 2,864 m and just last week we were in Tucson, Arizona and drove up Mt Lemon which peaks at 2,800 m. What altitude sickness!
Cuzco is located at an elevation of 3,200 m and guess what? We felt a bit dizzy, light headed and definitely out of breath while walking up the steep narrow streets of beautiful Cuzco. And when I opened my toiletry bag, the gel tube was completely bloated from the lower atmospheric pressure, as was my contact lens solution bottle. My deodorant bottle decided to explode when I tried to apply it in the morning, the application ball just flying off the body and deodorant splattering all over the hotel room carpet. Ok, they were right!
Do you know what they give you hear to overcome the symptoms of altitude sickness? Tea from coca leaves. The tradition originates from the mountainous Andes, where the locals actually chew coca leaves to combat altitude sickness. At least you have a reason to enjoy coca here. Before buying it, check though what kind of restrictions your country has for bringing in the leaves. You do not want to end up in jail.
Cuzco is gorgeous. The city is located in a valley, which once used to be a lake, and has expanded into every which direction, right up the sides of the surrounding hills. For that Kodak moment shot, go up to the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuaman (literally pronounced sexy woman) above the city where you will see all of Cuzco below, the single and two-storied buildings carpeting the whole valley in front. Beautiful.
The city is populated by the native Quechua people, their language actually being the second official language of Peru, along with Spanish. Many of them are dressed in their traditional and colourful garbs, including cute little kids who walk around with little lambs in their hands. Yes, I also thought it was a bit odd, till I realized they carry the lambs so that you will take a photo of them ... which of course is not for free.
Perhaps though, this is a way of preserving the colourful cultural patrimony of this beautiful town up in the Andes, which is akin to an open museum.
Things to see:
> Koricancha Temple (Temple of the Sun)
> Plaza de Armas
> San Blas
> Convent of Santo Domingo
Located outside of Cuzco ...
> Fortress of Sacsayhuaman: known more by its English synonym ‘Sexy Woman’, the view of Cuzco from up here is stunning. Not much remains from the ruins, but there is a very prominent zig-zag wall that supposedly represents the 22 teeth of a puma, which is the protector of Cuzco.
> Inca bath of Tambomachay: very simplistic
> Labyrinth of Pucallpa Pucara
> Monasterio Hotel: from the outside all you see is big white fortified walls with small windows. Inside lies a different world. Initially built in 1595, this used to be a monastery which many centuries later, more specifically in 1996, was converted into a luxury hotel. I imagine the monks did not live in such luxury! Given the purpose of the building and when it was built, not one room is alike. If you're lucky, your room will face one of the three inner courtyards or the square outside. There are some beautiful art pieces in this property, both in the public areas (such as the wonderful chapel) as well as the rooms. You’re living amidst history here.