Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Bienvenidos a Cusco

We arrived in Cusco on Saturday morning at around 11AM after a slightly delayed flight and a ridiculous experience in the Lima airport. Arriving in Cusco, however, couldn’t have been a bigger breath of fresh air. Figuratively, at least. The scenery in the Highlands is truly remarkable. While Lima is reminiscent of a number of other international cities (congested and fairly dirty with a few pretty buildings thrown in), Cusco has a life of its own. When I envisioned our experience in Peru, Cusco was it.

We hopped off the plane and immediately grabbed a taxi to Hotel Monasterio, our home for the next couple of nights. The hotel is an incredible place; a sight in and of itself.  Built in 1592 as the San Antonio Abad Monastery (on the foundations of an Incan Palace), the chapel and remnants of a functioning monastery still exist.

Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, PeruHotel Monasterio, Cusco, PeruHotel Monasterio, Cusco, Peru

We were promptly greeted by the staff at the hotel and offered mate de coca, tea that’s supposed to help with acclimating to the dizzying heights of the city (12’000 feet). While we initially patted ourselves on the back for not succumbing to soroche (altitude sickness), we did notice the thin air getting to us over time as we began exploring the city. We were tired more easily than normal, my head was a bit foggy and I felt like I was being short-changed when I took a deep breath in (kind of compressed in my chest). It’s nothing that’s unbearable — at least not for us — but it is noticeable. We’ve been downing coca tea like it’s going out of style since we’ve arrived so I can’t help but wonder how we’d feel if we hadn’t been taking precautionary measures.

Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, PeruHotel Monasterio, Cusco, Peru

With sunshine and warm(er) weather upon us, we quickly changed and headed out to explore Cusco. We are a short walk from the Plaza de Armas, the stunning main square of the old Incan capital. Upon entering, you’re greeted by La Compania de Jesus, the Cathedral of Santo Domingo (a UNESCO heritage site) and the Iglesia del Triunfo.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, PeruPlaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

We wandered the streets somewhat aimlessly and ran across a few markets that piqued our interest. The first area was a market with local artisans selling handicrafts (the requisite llama pieces, jewelry, etc.). We were still on sensory overload — the colors, the sights, the people; it’s really incredible to take in. Unlike Lima where Spanish influence is clear, Cusco truly embodies the Incan culture. The locals still dress in customary garb (though I can’t be sure how much of this is authentic), and mothers carry their children in colorful sacks across their backs. To say I’m enamored would be an understatement.

Cusco, PeruCusco, PeruCusco, Peru

After leaving the first market, we ran into El Mercado Central de San Pedro, a farmer’s market/flea market that had us immediately captivated. Unlike the market we had first stumbled into, this second market provided options for fresh meat, cheese, local grains, fresh-squeezed juice and inexpensive lunch options. Since we had just arrived, we downed a local orange-papaya juice (S./6) created by one of the vendors. I now know where the creators of Jamba Juice got their inspiration. Fresh and delicious, like whoa.

Cusco, PeruCusco, PeruCusco, Peru

After exploring a bit more on foot, we grabbed a late lunch at Chicha, a casual Gaston Acurio restaurant near the city center. We spent a bit of time exploring our hotel in the afternoon before taking a power nap (the altitude was getting to us a bit). We ended up with late reservations (9:30PM) at the nearby Cicciolina Restaurant, after it was recommended by friends in Lima. Delicious and affordable — we walked out the door majorly full (drinks, a tartare appetizer and two entrees) for around $60.

{Before dinner we indulged in a little Pisco tasting at Museo del Pisco. It was well worth it.}

Today, we’ve explored amidst a hail storm and are hanging in our room recuperating for a  bit before heading out to explore a bit more. Altitude sickness has take a bit of a toll on my new hubby so we’re working on getting back to 100% with some coca tea and a bit of relaxation.

xoxo from Cusco,

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.