Now that I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on my recent trip to Peru on AA’s Salkantay: Lodge to Lodge Adventure, I wanted to sit down and share a few of my favorite memories of this amazing place. Beginning and ending in the town of Cusco, I should probably start here.
Cusco is a town perched at about 11,000 feet in elevation, known as the starting point of many Machu Picchu treks as it’s easy to get to (a one hour flight from the major city of Lima) and the perfect city to adjust to the elevation of the Andes. The people here are welcoming, the kids are adorable (I definitely spent a few too many soles on Peruvian finger puppets), and the markets are bustling (make sure to check out the San Pedro Market for food and crafts). The Plaza de Armas, the main square, is beautiful and there’s always something going on here; in two days we saw a graduation, a parade, and a worker’s strike. Our guide even took us across town to visit a graveyard, which blew me away!! (Note: This graveyard was much different than a U.S. graveyard – instead of graves, there were endless rows of glass cases, personalized by families in memory of the deceased).
As for food, I couldn’t believe the variety and tastiness of the cuisine offered in Peru! As a recommendation of a few restaurants, make sure to check out Limo, Inka Grill, Incanto, and Cicciolina’s (among many others). These restaurants cater to foreigners and I felt completely safe eating the food. I ate everything from trout to cuy (guinea pig) and all tasted delicious. Of course with every meal, you have to try the different flavors of Pisco Sours, although the original kind is pretty yummy. (Did you know that every hotel in Peru is required to offer you a complimentary welcome drink such as a Pisco Sour? What service!) For just stopping in for a drink, I recommend checking out Fallen Angel, a wacky, fun Peruvian restaurant.
When in Cusco, you absolutely can’t miss the Saqsaywaman Ruins overlooking the city and the valleys beyond. Here you see some of the best examples in the world of the mortarless Inca stonework, and you just start skimming the surface of the mysteries behind the Inca civilization. You also touch on Spanish colonization of the area, as the Spanish influence is everywhere to be seen throughout the city, and the Ruins did not escape the wrath of the Spaniards’ takeover. Overall, this was my favorite tour in/around the city because the stonework and Ruins themselves are amazing, but you also can’t help but be awestruck by the view in the distance as well.
I could go on and on about just the city of Cusco, but I wouldn’t want to give away any surprises for when you experience this magnificent place yourself. My only advice is: even if your main goal is to see the Lost City of Machu Picchu, give yourself a few extra days before you head over, not just to acclimate, but to also take in the beauty and history of the Cusco area – you won’t regret it!
Viva El Peru!