So, you’re planning a trip to Cusco, Peru. You’re probably ultimately heading to Machu Picchu – am I right?? If not, you should add it to you itinerary. Seeing Machu Picchu was one of the best experiences of my life. But before that happened, I traveled a long way to get there! We ended up flying to Lima, flying to Cusco, taking an Uber to Ollantaytambo, and then taking a train to Aguas Calientes (the main town at the base of Machu Picchu). All in all, to get to this incredible wonder of the world you will most likely also travel through Cusco! Even an experienced traveler like myself had a few roadblocks in Cusco, and there are a few things you should know before going there. Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Altitude Sickness is REAL
Cusco is located at 3,399 meters – or 11,152 feet – above sea level. Humans usually start feeling the effects of altitude sickness at anywhere over 2500 meters above sea level. So landing in Cusco was definitely a shock to my system. Even though I had been taking altitude sickness pills, I felt exhausted just going up stairs, and I had to take several breaks just walking up one flight. Be prepared to feel out of breath and to take it easy, especially in your first couple of days as your body adjusts.
2. Be careful what you eat – and drink
Like many other countries around the world, the water in Cusco can upset the stomachs of many tourists there. This goes beyond just avoiding the tap water – be conscious also of ice in your drinks, or any freshly washed fruits and vegetables. I got sick on my first day in Cusco, and I’m unsure of the exact cause but I believe the culprit was a smoothie I drank for breakfast one morning. I thought my stomach could handle it – and I was sadly mistaken. The safest bet is to drink bottled water and to eat foods that have been cooked first.
3. Take Ubers – it is a quick and easy way to get around
I know that traveling around an unfamiliar city can be daunting. You’re unfamiliar with everything from the public transportation, to the road signs, to possibly even the language. But we discovered early on in our trip that the best way to get around (besides walking!) was to take an Uber. They were insanely inexpensive – usually around 5 soles (about $1.50). If you find the altitude sickness is making it hard to walk for long distances, then an Uber can definitely get you where you need to go!
4. Coca Tea is a Life Savor
This drink is magic! It is a natural remedy to altitude sickness, and can be found in just about any restaurant or cafe across Peru. Any time I was feeling tired or light-headed, I would duck into a cafe and order a large cup of coca tea. Instant relief! One kind woman in a shop even gave me a whole coca plant for free with my purchase because she saw how sick I was feeling. Such kind people in Cusco!
5. Cusco has the best priced souvenirs
When you’re looking for souvenirs for yourself or your friends and family back home, buy them in San Pedro Market in Cusco! There are endless rows of stalls, and the prices here are lower than anywhere else I found in Peru. Usually the people are open to bargaining and negotiating as well! It’s a great opportunity to grab some hand made Peruvian treasures.
Enjoy your travels!!