Cusco, Peru is such a fantastic place. I’ve wanted all my life to visit Machu Picchu and I was really excited about including this as part of my trip to South America. Unfortunately, something happened to sour the trip a little, but I can still remember the magic and beauty of the place.
We arrived in Cusco in the afternoon and immediately noticed the difference between Cusco and Buenos Aires, where we were last. Cusco is much quieter, a smaller city with far older buildings, and surrounded by mountains. The mountains! I couldn’t get over marveling at those beautiful serene mountains that you could see every which way you turned in the city. And there was something completely different about them as well too, different from all the other mountains I’ve ever seen.
Peruvian architecture, particularly in Cusco, is really something. The buildings were a mix of ordinary buildings and Spanish colonial buildings incorporated into pre-Colombian Incan architecture. Looking at some of the cathedrals, which themselves were built upon ancient Incan temples, you can’t help but marvel at their engineering feats, especially remembering that they didn’t have cranes and other machinery to move and build these large stone blocks.
There were heaps of narrow little streets and, being a mountainous area, some of the streets were incredibly steep. That, coupled with the fact that many of the streets were made of cobblestone, made it really hard for me to get around on crutches…but crutches, you say? More on that in a little bit!
And then there was this! A KFC restaurant in Peru!
During our stay in Cusco, we booked rooms at the Ninos Hotel, which we found via TripAdvisor. We loved it there – Ninos Hotel was founded by a Dutch woman, Jolanda van den Berg, who was struck by the plight of poor local children roaming the streets in Cusco. She started by taking in 12 boys, then later founded homes for girls as well. There is a school for the children as well, and proceeds from Ninos Hotel goes to aid the foundation van den Berg set up for the children.
Besides the added bonus of being able to feel like we’re doing something to help these children too, Ninos Hotel was a fantastic place to stay at! Walking in, we were blown away by the beautiful interior courtyard and our gorgeous room.
This is the door to our room!
Above, you can see the books I ended up dragging all around South America with me. The memory of their weight and all the room they took up in my suitcase makes me thankful that I now have a Kindle I can take instead!
And how pretty is that bedside pendant lamp?
In various rooms of the hotel are pictures of the children van den Berg took in. Each of the hotel rooms too are named after a child.
One of the best things about Ninos Hotel? The incredibly delicious meals we had! Below are just a few of the meals we sampled at the hotel.
They weren’t traditional Peruvian fare but they were dee-licious. Just have a look at our breakfast!
Cusco, like many places in South America, is a difficult place to get money. The ATMs only distribute a small maximum amount of cash in a day and will end up charging you a fee each time you use it as well. We also had to a walk to a number of different ATMs before we found one that would accept our cards.
On our second day in Cusco, we went out looking for an ATM. You will usually be able to locate an ATM with easy access for foreign cards by spotting the number of foreigners lining up at these machines. The first ATM we got to, however, swallowed the card of the girl in the line just ahead of us. She was left virtually with no money and no card! We decided not to use that one based on her experience because we were solely dependent on my one card, my friend having lost her own bank card somewhere on our trip between Buenos Aires and Peru. We were definitely in a precarious situation then!
Luckily, after some walking, we managed to find an ATM where I was able to obtain sufficient funds for us to use over the next couple of days. Whew!
Walking along the streets of Cusco, you quickly become aware that tourism is their main source of income. There were heaps of shops devoted to exchanging foreign currency, selling travel notebooks, extra camera batteries, camera cards and hiking gear for those making the trek to Machu Picchu. There were even several roadside stalls selling fake designer goods. I ended up having to grab a pair of cheap sunnies as I had misplaced my own pair somewhere along the way!
We also saw this guy as we walked along the streets. We couldn’t figure out what he was doing at first and thought it might be some sort of protest. Later on, we found that these men were there to prevent jay walking. If you happen to cross the street without using a pedestrian crossing, they will run after you and yell at you to shame you in public. So it was a good thing we didn’t jay walk in front of them!
After grabbing some cash and settling the prep for our Machu Picchu trek, we decided to spend the rest of our time in Cusco doing some sightseeing as well as some bungee jumping. We especially wanted to do the bungee jumping after hearing from a friend that it was possible to do so among the ruins of Peru.
We were a little misled, as it turned out, because the bungee jumping site wasn’t among the ruins but instead off the road about half an hour’s drive out of Cusco. There is a green clearing surrounded by some hills and a rather large concrete block that we were to bungee jump over, which made us a little nervous because if something happened to the rope, we would definitely go splat!
By this time, we had paid for our jump and had told lots of people we were planning to do this, so we didn’t want to back down. However, we were a bit uncertain as the operators didn’t seem entirely as professional as we thought they would be. However, they seemed really friendly and we still didn’t want to back down so we allowed them to strap us up and, one by one, we made the jump.
I have always wanted to bungee jump all my life so I was pretty excited at this. Having sky jumped twice, I thought I would have no problem jumping off a platform, knowing there was a rope tied to my back, but when I looked down, I found I had major trouble getting myself to step off that platform into empty air. I had a couple of false starts, then did it!
As you can see from my jump, my legs weren’t strapped together and they went every which way… which explained why, after the jump, my left ankle began to throb. I tried to ignore it, but by the end of the afternoon, when we had got back to the hotel, it had turned swollen and super painful… and became a very, very sprained ankle.
I tried to hide it and took the advice of a lovely Belgian doctor staying at Ninos Hotel to bath my ankle in hot and cold water alternately, wrap it tightly with bandages (supplied by another fellow traveller) and let it rest. However, the ankle had been sprained really badly, so badly it was hard to sleep at night. We tried to make it to our Machu Picchu trip but by the start of our hike, it was obvious both to myself and our guide that there was no way I could make the trek. I was horribly disappointed, but had to concede defeat and turn back.
We ended up taking a bus back to Cusco, crammed in with other Peruvian locals. It was one heck of a trip! I was truly grateful to my friend for coming back with me. I felt terrible and wanted her to go on the hike without me but she refused to. She was a true friend and definitely kudos to her for looking after me on her holiday and putting up with my major bad moods after because of my injury!
Once we got back, we went straight to a hotel where a doctor gave me a shot and some cream for my ankle. I definitely felt much better after but it took a while for the swelling and pain to go away. Pretty much, I was in pain for the rest of our trip in South America!
Thankfully, we were still able to retain a room at Ninos Hotel and I was grateful for their care as well. The staff at Ninos are incredibly lovely and warm, and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone wanting to go to Cusco.
Pancakes at Ninos made a great treat after the disappointment and pain of the sprained ankle. Rather than getting some exercise by hiking to Machu Picchu, I ended up putting on weight with all the lovely meals Ninos Hotel served us!
As we had a couple of days spare before we would take the train and meet the rest of our group at Machu Picchu itself, what else were a couple of girls to do in Cusco?
Why, head straight to the highest Irish bar in the world, located in Cusco, and get drunk of course! 😉