Cusco has lots of drool-worthy sites for history buffs. Located on top of a hill, Saqsaywaman is walking distance. The entry fee of these ruins are outrageous. Somewhere around the $40 if I recall correctly. That doesn’t mean that a visit is out of the question. If you walk along the road all the way up to the main entry and go little further up, you can view lots of ruins from there without paying. Yes, you are not walking inside up close, but you can still see. On the way down the hill, I needed to retie my ponytail. I couldn’t have picked a worse spot. Over the side I saw a bag. Being my curious self, I felt the need to peer over to see what this big bag was. Dog food. But instead of food, I could see the head of a black dog that was no longer breathing. Did not anticipate that.
Moving on from that visual… A historical museum and churches are popular sites around the city’s main plaza. I suggest to pop by an info desk to acquire a map, which will lay out your options. Something not to miss is the San Paolo market. Some vendors are selling souvenirs, but the other half is offering food. Cheap, delicious food. For $1.50 I got myself a filling plate. We went on a weekend evening for dinner and the market was intensely crowded. Luckily the morning is less popular, we didn’t have to battle for our seats for breakfast. But the food is worth fighting for. Not literally punching, but shoving myself on a bench between two strangers. I claim this space.
Cusco is known for famous Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is not in the city. Cusco, the Incan capital, is just the closest city by this world wonder. Be sure to buy an entry ticket in advance since the site only allows a set amount of visitors per day. We got ours 2 weeks prior, but locals called us crazy for waiting that long. Apparently people get these months before. Yay for traveling during low season.
There are various ways to get to these ruins. Some take time, effort, and/or money. The most time consuming is hiking the 4-day trail. The train requires the least amount of time, but costs the most. For $80 you’ll reach your destination in few hours. We chose to the bus option, which takes a day. From Cusco we rode a bus to Santa Maria ($4.50), then took a van to Santa Teresa ($3), and from there a cab escorted us to the trail start ($1.50). At the trail start we had to walk 2 hours along the train tracks to Agua Caliente, where we spent the night.
At 5:45am we hiked up to Machu Picchu. You can take a bus for $12 one-way. The hike comprises mostly stairs and takes 1 hour. We made the mistake to not carry water with us. They sell bottles at the top, but for 4 times the price. The water was regularly priced, but they added a service charge and a tip automatically which ended up bumping the price from $0.60 to $2.40.
Any luggage item will be required to be stored. Walk through the entry first and store your belongings there, since the inside location has a lower charge by 60 cents. I left my backpack in Cusco with the hostel that charged the same amount. This helped because now we didn’t have to carry both baggage the entire walk. With all the walking we did (8 hours), our feet were hurting at the end.
Inside the actual ruins, the site is worth the exertion. My mind was blownl that a society would put in the effort to build a citadel on top of a mountain. Be mentally prepared for the hordes of selfie-taking humans. You’ll probably will turn into one yourself. Guides are readily available, but I chose to eavesdrop on a few of them while we walked by to pick up the information for free. I definitely didn’t get all the facts with this method, but that’s fine by me. My favorite fact was that the Incans would put dry wood in a crack of a rock, make the wood wet, and the expansion of the wood would break the rock. Smart.
Hiking back down around 1pm, we weren’t going to stay another night in Agua Caliente. So we had to walk the 2 hours to the cab. The easy trail is flat along a train tracks, but the terrain is uncomfortably rocky. The biggest problem arose in Santa Maria. The bus wasn’t leaving until late night and the van costs more, but won’t leave until a minimum of 7 passengers. A Brazilian guy came shortly after us, but the other 4 backpackers didn’t show until an hour later. At least we got some quality bonding time with the Brazilian guy.
We ended up arriving in Cusco at 11pm. Probably not the safest drop off area, we rushed our way to our old hostel. Only a few people were on the streets and stores were closed. Our hostel had shut its doors also. Little in panic, we rang the doorbell, praying the staff would let us in. On the 3rd ring, I heard motion inside. A guy let us in and got us into a bed room. With everything closed, I wouldn’t have known where to go, even less which place offers room and board. Lesson learned. If I’m arriving past 10pm, I need to make a hostel booking in advance or know of hostels which offer 24-hour reception.
Overall, we could have spent more time in Cusco exploring all the historical spots, but we wanted to keep on a schedule (booked a flight). If you are archeologically inclined, I would suggest give the old capital extra time. Next time I go, you can find me spending all my time in Sao Paolo Market.
Cost breakdown of Cusco in USD*:
- Hostel: $56.55
- Transportation: $49.55
- Food: $22
- Activity: $38 (Machu Picchu)
- Miscellaneous: $1.20 storage fee
Daily Average Cost: $46.37