by Retta Karpinski
When you fly into Cusco, Peru, you want to look out the window. Cusco is nestled in between breathtaking Andean peaks.
There are buildings climbing down valleys and sloping up the mountain sides. It’s a unique and beautiful town (and on the smaller side). Cusco has one main town square surrounded by homes, churches, and cool, rustic alleys paved with stones. In the middle of town, there is a fun market where you can get everything from bread to flowers to giant pig heads!
After the heat of Santa Marta, Colombia (where my family and I stayed when we left San Diego to live in Colombia for six months), I welcomed the crisp chill air of Cusco. You definitely don’t want to forget a jacket! Cusco is situated high in the mountains at an altitude of 11,152 ft. That’s about two miles straight up! (When I said breathtaking, I wasn’t joking. I literally meant breathtaking). So make sure you take careful precautions around altitude sickness and give yourself a couple of days to situate before trying any vigorous activities. The locals will offer you coca tea to help with adjusting to the altitude. Interestingly, the leaves of the coca plant are the main ingredient in cocaine. However, the stimulant is not activated, so the tea has none of the same effects as the drug.
Cusco was a great place to stay; full of color and enthusiasm. We went to Cusco in June. This is when the locals celebrate “Inti Raymi” (or Sun Celebracion).
The townspeople dress up in traditional clothes and walk around the town square; singing, dancing, and playing instruments. There were also massive floats all over the town square! Ranging from beautifully sculptured, 20-feet-tall women to political statements involving giant pigs. When we went, the kids from the local schools were dressed up in their traditional outfits and super adorable. I highly recommend going to Cusco to see the parade.
Cusco’s town flag is a rainbow. When I first walked into the town square and saw the festivities, I thought incredulously: Is this a Pride Parade!? But Cusco never struck me as a small, liberal town. Especially when a building on the perimeter of the square was a gigantic Catholic church! Cusco’s town flag is a rainbow, coincidentally also the LGBT flag.
Around town, there are a few stray dogs. And although they may look like dogs in the USA, they are wild animals in Cusco and you shouldn’t try to pet them. However, don’t worry about them, they won’t bother you at all!
My family and I went to stay at the Ninos Hotel where they had AMAZING pesto pasta and tomato soup. It wasn’t exactly what I’d call culture food but it was nice to have a meal or two of comfort in the middle of a new adventure. We also ate at the Blue Alpaca, which had delicious alpaca burgers (yes, made of actual Alpaca). However, the one food that you found everywhere in Cusco (there is always that one food) were these scrumptious, homemade corn nuts. They were salty and crisp and made for the perfect snack (especially on hikes). Proceeds, soveniers, coca tea
Overall, Cusco was a great place to stay and I would definitely go again!
About the Author and Photographer
Retta is a photographer, thespian, and avid reader. She enjoys all kinds of music and loves playing the piano. She has lived in San Diego her whole life except for the six months she spent in Colombia with the rest of her family. She hopes to travel outside the country again!