48 hours in Cuzco

By | Category: Travel destinations

Ines Gamarra journeys to the land of the Incas, and finds that the Peruvian city of Cuzco is much more than merely a gateway to Machu Picchu

Once the mighty capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco was renown throughout the whole of the continent as the home of the powerful Inca emperors and its impressive temples and buildings as the personification of their success. Although the arrival of the conquistadors completely changed the city, the combination of both past empires and present-day Peru has resulted in a city buzzing with life and tradition that continues to charm visitors from around the world.

Only an hour-long flight from Lima, visitors usually tend to stay for at least a couple of days to take in all the sights of the city. Invited by Viajes Pacifico, one of Peru’s leading tour agencies to spend two days in Cuzco, the trip became a whirlwind tour of the city, soaking in as much as possible in such a limited time! Although rest is usually recommended in Cuzco because of the altitude, I landed just after 2pm and swiftly joined a tour group going around the sights in Cuzco.

We started off just outside the city with an amazing view of the centre, before heading down the narrow cobbled streets to the church of San Blas and the San Pedro market – a fascinating place to see where the locals source their food. We then proceeded to walk around the main sights of the city – like Qorikancha (The Golden Temple), which used to be the most important temple in the Inca capital, and whose walls and floors were once covered in solid gold. When the Spanish took Atahualpa, the Inca emperor hostage, his ransom was mostly collected from the gold in the temple. Today, Qorikancha might not still be made of gold but remains an impressive colonial church built on Inca stonework, a great emblem of the merger of both cultures.

As the tour ended, despite feeling a bit of height sickness (make sure to drink a lot of mate de coca – a special coca tea which helps with the height) my weakness for food and shopping gave me the strength to explore the city’s San Blas district a bit more – making the slightly steep hike (which although not very steep at all, turns into the Kilimanjaro challenge when you’re not used to being at 3,400 masl) around the Cuesta de San Blas, and going into all the small shops full of gorgeous local products. Like the tour, my night was also coming to an end so before going back to the hotel, I made a quick stop at Cicciolina – one of Cuzco’s many trendy emerging restaurants, where I had a delicious onion soup – perfect for the cold night.

Day two was the big day – I was going to Macchu Picchu. I was woken up super early to take the first train, and after around a surprisingly quick three hours (a bit longer than getting from London to Paris), through amazing scenery – mountains, rivers, trees… we finally arrived to our destination. Although Aguas Calientes, the town where the train arrives, may be full of fellow tourists, and everyone has seen Machu Picchu itself in photos an infinite amount of times, nothing quite compares to the experience of seeing it in person. The scenery is unbelievable – steep mountains high up and then a beautiful city in between them – all built somehow by this ancient empire with no elaborate tools or machinery.

The return to Cuzco felt just as quick as the way there, and within no time the last night of Cuzco had arrived. Since it was late and the museums were shut, I decided to head to the big artisanal market just outside the centre full of great finds and then had one last dinner at Chicha, famous Peruvian Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant in Cuzco. Like all of Gaston’s restaurants, it had the same familiar look and feel, and, like the city, didn’t disappoint.


 

Ines flew to Peru on Air Europa which links Gatwick to Lima via Madrid. Britons used to flying to South America on Iberia Airlines will find that Iberia is giving up a number of routes. Air Europa will be replacing them on these services.

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