Updated: Apr 23
Corpus Christi festival, Inca trail base, home of baby alpacas and llamas and rainbow coloured mountains
We took an internal flight Arequipa to Cusco. I am no longer a confident flyer after a turbulent solo trip back from Italy in summer 2017. I used to adore flying but now the fear of something going wrong and being so helpless high in the sky resounds in my head before each flight. I was worried about the internal flights in Peru as being on a small plane and surrounded by mountains made me think the turbulence would be greater than usual. I was pleased to discover the flights were smooth. The airport experience was also extremely quick and painless.
We arrived at our hotel, Illa’s Inn around 10am, 2 hours early for check in. The owners were able to check us in at 11am which was very helpful. Whilst we waited we headed out for the best breakfast of the trip. We went to La Rabona which is a quaint little cafe with only 3 small tables. We both had avocado on toast and as boring as that may sound this was anything but. Placed on top of sourdough bread and drizzled with oil this was exactly what we wanted and went perfectly with a latte and freshly squeezed orange juice.
After checking in to our room and doing a little unpacking we headed back out to attend the walking tour. This tour was held by Incan Milky Way and lasted around 3 hours. We were led through the main plaza, parks, the bustling market and learnt a great deal about Peruvian history in what was known by the Inca’s as the ‘belly button of the world’. We spent the afternoon exploring Cusco ourselves in the glorious sunshine and booked a table at ‘Hanz Craft Beer’ for dinner this evening. When booking our table we were given a selection of beers to taste served in mini tankers.
Before heading for dinner we made our way up to Cristo Blanco, a large white statue of Christ situated next to the popular Cusco attraction of ‘Sacsayhuaman’ (think sexy woman and it’s easier to remember!). Sacsayhuaman is an Inca Fortress still displaying around 40% of the original structure built by 20,000+ Incan men. This fortress is said to be Cusco’s main attraction and whilst we were there the locals were celebrating Winter Soltice at the ruins where re-enactments of Incan traditions such as sun worship took place. Due to the popularity and the many recommendations that Sacsayhuaman is the top attraction to visit in Cusco, we would suggest to visit here if you have time. We didn’t visit however for two reasons. Firstly, throughout our time in Peru we had already visited many Incan Ruins and were going to see more during the rest of our trip. Secondly, in order to visit Sacsayhuaman you cannot buy a single entry ticket. Instead you must purchase a ‘Boleta Turistica del Cusco’ which costs between 70 and 130 soles pp. The ticket is definitely worth buying if you intend to visit numerous tourist attractions however possibly not if you will only visit one or two.
The back to back events of Corpus Christi and Winter Solstice mean that June is an extremely busy time in Cusco. So much so, that streets are rammed with locals dancing dressed in masks and traditional dress and you can find street food and Cusquena beer being sold on every corner. The festivals are really a spectacle and if you are lucky enough to catch a window seat in one of the restaurants/bars overlooking Plaza de Armes, you could relax and watch the performances for hours. The festivals do however making getting around Peru a little difficult. Walking down the streets you are shoulder to shoulder with the next person so just be wary and keep tight hold of your belongings. You may also need to get creative with the directions of where you’re heading as streets may be blocked off meaning you will need to find a diversion. Getting back to Cristo Blanco the walk, or should i say mini hike, up to the statue from the centre took around 30 minutes. We were joined by a number of stray dogs who joined our walk (from our experience were harmless but of course be wary) and for a dog lover I was thrilled. James? Not so much. The walk is steep and we would suggest heading to the statue in the daylight. Although we never felt unsafe during our trip, this walk does take you off the beaten track and to a much less populated part of Cusco. Leaving the hustle and bustle of festival life behind, the silence can be rather intimidating. When you get to Cristo Blanco you can overlook Plaza de Armes and see for miles. It is a great viewpoint and picture spot and if you’re lucky enough you may just get to cuddle a baby Alpaca whilst you’re up there. We finished the evening at Hanz Craft Beer for burgers and beers as we watched the festivals from our window seat overlooking Plaza de Armes.
Day 2 in Cusco was spent hiking the incredible rainbow mountain - what you need to know.
After a strenuous day we ate at a lovely restaurant called Pachapapa where we sat outside in a Courtyard style setting with a wood fired oven. Although we learnt during our trip that Pachamama means Mother Earth to the people of the Andes, when we asked what Pachapapa means we were told ‘a restaurant is Cusco’. Although true, this wasn’t quite the answer we were looking for! We ate Alpaca and Lomo Saltado which is a Chifa dish of stir fried beef with rice and potato fries - it is as delicious as it sounds.
Plaza de Armes
The next day I was ready for a lie in and to chill out. We made the rookie error of trying to enter museums and attractions on a Sunday when they are closed. There were pre celebrations to the Winter Solstice festival in Plaza de Armes so we grabbed a coffee at Cappuccino in the square and watched the processions. The cafe only have 3 window seats so you have to do lots of close people watching and be quick on your feet to jump on their table as soon as they leave. Lunch was spent at Monkey Cafe. When researching where to eat in Cusco this place came up time and time again. It did not disappoint. We had a hot caprese style sandwich and falafel wrap washed down by a glass of red wine and a craft beer. The cafe has an outdoor courtyard seating area which has a TV playing old music videos and a stand selling clothing from independent label boutiques. The remainder of the afternoon was spent nursing a Cusquena or two in Parque de San Francisco and soaking up the sunshine.
The following day we were heading off to do the Inca Trail and as evening came we attended our pre Inca Trail meeting. We met our guide who took us through the general itinerary of the trip and made sure we had been in Cusco for a 2-3 days prior to acclimatise to the altitude. We met two of our fellow hikers who were joining us but unfortunately the two remaining members of our group were on another excursion that day which didn’t arrive back into Cusco until late. After finishing a delicious cup of fruit tea and finding out what time we were going to be picked up in the morning, we left and grabbed some food before heading home. We got a sharing platter of prawns, mozzarella sticks and chicken wings at a restaurant in Plaza de Armes, sounds great right? Unfortunately it wasn’t and we wouldn’t recommend. The food had very little flavour and was overpriced. The remainder of our evening was spent packing for the Inca Trail and getting an early night.
Our Cusco trip was a sandwich trip with the Inca trail as the filler. Find the full Inca Trail blog here:
Once we had completed the Inca Trail we arrived back into Cusco and made our way to our Airbnb which was located close to the market. We bought some snacks and wine and checked into our apartment. We wanted a little bit of luxury after sleeping in a tent for 3 nights and our apartment had a free-standing bath in the main room. I remember sitting in the bath that night feeling emotional and extremely privileged. I’d like to think the tears were also due to exhaustion but maybe I am just getting soft in my old age!
We had a well-needed lie in and a chilled morning in bed before heading out to brunch at JC’s Cafe. We had huevos rancheros with two lattes. There was a cabinet with scrumptious looking tiered cakes but unfortunately we were too full from our breakfasts to try a slice. We then visited Koricancha, the temple of the Inca Empire. This attraction is filled with Incan history and after exploring the museum you can relax in the lushes gardens.
We spent the afternoon shopping for a souvenir. We were looking for a painting of Machu Picchu and as you can imagine this wasn’t hard to find however there is only usually one of each painting so we searched for hours trying to find the perfect one we could hang in our new home. We settled on a brightly coloured textured painting and after negotiating the price this was wrapped in kitchen roll (yes, we were sceptical too of the choice of packaging but luckily the painting arrived home unhurt) and headed back to our apartment to get changed for the evening. We headed to Limbus Rooftop Cafe which we had researched and it was said to be the best bar for views in Cusco. We were pleasantly surprised by the views and sat on the terrace enjoying some cocktails and some complimentary nibbles. The festivities in Cusco were continuing and there were fireworks lighting up the night sky. After our cocktail the waiter came to our table to see if we would like another drink. He told us that if we wrote a review on TripAdvisor we could have a free Pisco Sour. There’s little we won’t do for a free drink so we obliged however this did make us wonder how many others had been drawn in by the free drinks offer and posted a biased review.
We headed to Chicha for dinner. There was also a Chicha in Arequipa and in both cities the restaurant is highly recommended. We booked a table earlier in the day and were glad we did. The restaurant is large and still it was filled to the brim with diners. I like to think that is usually a good sign. We ordered a Cusquena and a speciality blueberry cocktail, a ravioli dish and a lamb ragout. The food was beautifully presented and although tasty it wasn’t as good as we thought. As it was so highly recommended we thought this would have been our favourite meal of the trip but it didn’t come close to Zig Zag.
Next Stop: Barranco