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10 Things to Know Before You Go to Cusco, Perú
First time in Cusco, Qosqo, Cuzco?
I imagine that if you are reading this article, it’s because you plan to visit the city of Cusco or Machu Picchu. Perhaps to participate in one of those adventure hikes that take you through the highest mountains of the Andes, adorned with alpacas and llamas, on a hike like the famous Inca
Trail or the Lares trek or maybe to visit Choquequirao (the other Mach Picchu). Or maybe you plan to take a bus or one of those luxurious trains (the Hiram Bingham line) that will take you to and pick you up from Machu Picchu while you travel in style.
Whatever the itinerary that you have in mind for the land of the Incas, let me congratulate you on deciding to visit this important city in South America, which is full of mystery, history, traditions and legends, rich in gastronomy and friendly people quick to smile and ready to take a picture when you are with one of them – for “un solcito.”
Here are a few suggestions to avoid committing the most frequent mistakes made by tourists during their first day of visiting the city of Cusco and thus avoid a bad time during your stay.
Are you ready for Adventure?
Talking the Talk - A Few Useful Phrases
Before you pack your bags, book your tickets, and leave in search of your dream adventure in Perú, it’s important that you learn some words in Spanish. This will help you to connect with the locals. Attempting to speak a little of the local language, even if you do not pronounce it well, will give the impression that you are interested in the culture and the people who live there. It will definitely make a good impression, or at least cause a smile, and give you a much richer experience in your travels.
Some Useful Phrases in Spanish:
Keep in mind that the city of Cusco is 11,200ft / 3,400m above sea level. The weather can be cold, even in the summer, especially early in the mornings and in the evenings. If you plan to arrive to Cusco by plane, have a jacket readily available and wear long pants to avoid shocking your body with a sudden change in temperature. Unless, of course, you come from a cold environment and you like to wear shorts!
Relax, you’re on vacation!
Once in Cusco and settled in your hotel, feel free to take a rest or a nap. Your first day in Cusco should be enjoyable and relaxing. Take it slow and allow your body time to acclimate to the high altitude.
Taking it Easy
Avoid activities that involve physical effort on the first day of your arrival in Cusco. Physical exhaustion could increase the risk of suffering altitude sickness (known as Soroche in Cusco). Altitude sickness could occur during the first hours of your arrival in the city of Cusco or hours after. Keep in mind that altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of physical fitness or age. For this reason, it is important to ask your doctor about medication for the symptoms before you leave home and take it easy on your first day.
Walking the Walk - Exploring Cusco
If after having taken a break, you feel good and energetic enough to take a walk, I recommend you to explore the city center and visit some museums or artisan markets. There are many places to visit that do not require much physical effort and many of these places are concentrated in the center of the city, near the Plaza de Armas.
Make sure to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, especially if you will soon be hiking to Machu Picchu or Choquequirao. Avoid drinking excessive soda, coffee, and alcohol arriving to Cusco. It’s already hard to sleep the first couple of nights at high altitude, and getting good rest is important to help you acclimatize.
Adventures in Food
Perú offers a variety of unique flavors and delicious foods. On your first day in Cusco, do not rush into ordering a Cuy al Horno (guinea pig) or Ceviche. You should definitely try these authentic Peruvian dishes, but save it for later in your trip, when your body will be ready to handle unfamiliar foods. The first day in Cusco, I recommend that you eat light, easy on the condiments and salt, preferably hot dishes for easy digestion (soups etc.).
Be prepared for the weather!
If you go out for a walk, be ready for changes in weather. Put on sunblock and take a jacket with you. At 11,200ft / 3400m, the sun is very strong and can burn your skin very quickly. Even on a sunny day in Cusco, it’s usually still cold in the shade or when the clouds come out and block the sun. If you visit Cusco between the months of September to April, always have a rain poncho with you. During the rainy season in Cusco, the rain can come quickly and be very heavy.
Things to pack:
The official currency of Perú is the Peruvian Sol (S/.) Many businesses in Cusco do not accept credit cards, so it’s important to have cash available while exploring the city. There are ATMs and exchange houses if you want to change foreign currency ($, €, etc.) in the center of the city around the Plaza de Armas and Avenida el Sol.
If you want to change your foreign currency, compare the prices in 2 or 3 different exchange houses, so that you can see which one offers the best price for your currency. Do not feel obligated to change in the first exchange house.
If you are going to explore the city of Cusco, do not get too far from the city center. Avoid carrying a lot of luggage (Cusco hotels usually offer free storage). Carry with you only what is necessary so that you can move around easily to avoid physical wear and tear. If you take money, cameras, or other valuables, put it in a place that is safe and not visible. Avoid big crowds. The city of Cusco is a quiet city and very safe in general, but as in any city around the world there are thieves who look for opportunities. Just use your common sense and good judgement so you can focus on enjoying your trip!
Essentials for walking around Cusco:
The beautiful city of Cusco is completely surrounded by mountains. Its streets, squares, and buildings are filled with history, character, and the bustling daily life of modern Cusco. I hope you will drink in all of the colors and flavors of Cusco and immerse yourself in the culture of this wonderful city, and that these tips will help you to enjoy the time you spend here.
Welcome to Cuscol