Our 1st Day Spent at Altitude in Cusco

Cusco (Cuzco in Spanish; Qosqo, pronounced, “cos-co” in Quechua, its indigenous name) is a city in southeastern Peru near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes Mountain Range. It is the capital city of the Cusco region and province and has a population of about 400,000.

The city of Cusco is situated at an elevation of 3,399 m (11,152’), so it is higher than anything we have climbed to in the Canadian Rockies. The air is a bit thinner. The sun is a bit stronger. The daylight is a LOT brighter. And despite daytime highs of around 23C, I wasn’t getting down to a t-shirt anytime soon.

The light here is really bright. The fire in this picture was a garbage fire that got out of control! It caught a house on fire, but was put out quickly.

Acclimatization is a tricky thing. The catch is that you fly to Cusco, this super high city, from Lima, which is essentially at sea level. It isn’t so much the height of Cusco that gets to you, but the rapid nature with which you ascend and fling yourself there.

Bill and Tatiana, our host.

As our hotel host, Tatiana, says, Acclimatizing to elevation is a little like roulette. You never know who will get hit. Bill seems to be doing fine, but I’m getting wicked headaches. They are lessening, which is good. Our legs also have not as much juice, that’s for sure! And sudden movements get our hearts pounding a bit. I’m so glad we built in a bit of relaxing time before setting out on the trekking adventure! We’re going for small walks, getting used to the sights and sounds of Cusco. We’re doing a few hills and stairs (they can’t be avoided here!). We’re drinking lots of coca tea. And we’re taking our altitude meds.

Taking it easy and drinking coca tea helps with altitude acclimatization.

Cusco was the historical capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century to 1532 when the the Spanish conquest, helped along by the small pox virus, decimated the population. Our hotel shares some of that ancient history and is truly an amazing place to stay.

Our room is the door basking in sunlight, on the right.

Consisting of 5 guest rooms, it is a lovingly restored 1800s Peruvian Republican Mansion built on the ruins of the old Manco Capac Palace in the San Cristóbal neighbourhood of Cusco. Its site is up on the terraced slopes of the city, a 7 minute walk from its central square.

The doors to all of the rooms at our hotel are amazing! They are ornately carved, incredibly thick slabs of wood that add such beauty, character and historic charm to the place.

The door to our room, as seen from the terrace.

They’ve incorporated some of the original palace walls into the gardens here (see the pic below), and they’ve added artifacts (like mortar stones and ancient doors) and furniture found in the rooms of the old palace and scattered them throughout the hotel.

What’s left of the original Manco Capac Palace wall.

It is such a beautiful spot, high on the hillside overlooking the city with ancient agricultural terraces built up and behind it. There are Eucalyptus trees growing on some of the terraces, providing welcome shade. The terraces are as they once were: still holding up narrow, level plots of soil, they now host vegetable gardens or tree plots with their original mud bricks and carved stones.

The terrace wall outside our window.

Our bed is amazing, and this photo doesn’t do it justice. The headboard was found in the basement of the residence, saved from the original palace. It looks small here, but it is king sized and full of ornate filigree and a quirky, folksy painting of a cupid, pan flute-playing-Spaniard-courting-a -ady pastoral scene on it.

Our filigreed bed headboard.
A close up of the headboard’s pastoral scene.

We took a gentle walk into the Plaza de Armas (every Spanish-inspired city seems to have a big, paving stoned, central city square). On a Sunday, it is a popular place and holds military demonstrations. They really like their gunfire and parades here! Sunday marks an evening military parade with lots of gunfire. And we woke up to the sound of gunfire  and firecrackers this morning, too, as Monday represents the raising of the flag ceremony complete with, you guessed it, lots of gunfire!

Here are a few pics from our jaunt and some observations.

The cobblestoned streets are very steep here and full of packs of roving dogs.

The streets are cobblestoned, often quite steep and worn very smooth by the passage of time & use. They are all narrow, ancient, and as a result, one way streets. There are stray dogs everywhere! They roam in packs but are friendly, non-assertive and seem well fed. It might be like the dogs in Santiago, Chile that were seen as communal property, allowed to roam free, and fed by the community.

Plaza De Armas is the central square of the city.

The Plaza De Armas was a large city square, mostly inundated by tourists and Peruvians in traditional costumes, hawking their trinkets (mostly weaved bracelets, blankets and scarves, and knitted woolen hats), often with a baby alpaca or a small child dressed in traditional costume to lure people in.

We grabbed an empañada con pollo (with chicken) for a light sack. It was quite yummy & we returned to this spot a few times during our stays in Cusco.

It was a busy place and a beautiful day. So we worked those non-acclimatized legs, hearts & lungs, wandering the streets of the downtown city centre. Today we will go on a historical tour to learn about what we were seeing, but for yesterday, it was all about moving about, and moving slowly.

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