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Cusco – Inca capital with once lofty ideas

The short flight from Lima to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, was probably the most expensive km/euro of the trip, but what a flight!
The Andes penetrate the thick White clouds, some peaks reach an astonishing 6,700 metres, that’s about 22,000 feet!
In fact much of the inhabited area of the interior sits at around 3,000 to 4,000 metres.
The cloud cleared as we approached Cusco and after what seemed a modest descent the pilot expertly manoeuvred the aircraft above gaps in the mountains to swing it around for the short and unforgiving approach into the regional capital’s modest runway.
I quickly felt the effect of the altitude as I waited for the bags in arrivals. It reminded me of when I went to Breckenridge in Colorado, when a fellow guest was hospitalised after a night out drinking. The air is thin and exaggerates the intensity of exertion – lugging my case off the belt seemed a real task!
The locals call altitude sickness ‘soroche’, but we escaped most of the effects; including unfortunately loss of appetite which at this point in the trip I could well do with! The dry air did give me a headache and blocked sinus and walking around the town at first made me breathless and dizzy – and that’s before happy hour!
After a wonderful lunch (including a tender Alpaca steak for me, medium rare, a red meat that tasted like a game bird, and a wonderful fresh river trout for Rafa) and a few beers our approach to altitude adjustment was complete!
Cusco has a remarkable energy about it; you just feel this sense of history. Admittedly there were a few locals dressed in a contrived traditional costume to win tips for photos, but generally the place felt real and a genuine living city, relatively unspoilt by tourism. (One odd thing I did note, was that so far in Peru most of the tourists restaurants are Italian style with pasta and pizza dishes…I am guess thing that is a legacy of when the backpackers were the main visitors.)
The local market was extraordinary, giving an insight into the reality of life for those that come down from the surrounding mountains to sell rustic cheeses, wild herbs, as well as alpaca and guinea pig meat, live frogs, rustic breads and fresh vegetables. There was no show for visitors here; the earthy worn faces and soiled clothes were a reflection of a hard existence – subsistence at best.
The people however are so warm, friendly and gentle. And their way of speaking Spanish is full of charm and respect – I am just so blown away by the culture and style of the Peruvian day to day life. But it is a tragedy to see how politicians have allowed corruption to cripple this nation leaving many, especially the indigenous people of the Andes to scratch a living.
The town is ancient – full of fascinating architecture: from pre Columbian streets to original Inca walls: with some colonial master pieces like the Cathedral thrown in for good measure. The warm reds and browns of the tiled roofs makes the city blend into its valley landscape.
Like us, most international visitors come to Cusco to start their journeys of discovery of Inca History. Cusco is best known for being the capital of the Inca Empire for two centuries, and where the mummies of former Inca royalty would be brought down from the dry mountains to the main square to preside over the annual Inca pre harvest festival.
The contemporary political situation in the area has been stable for some time and academic researchers from the States are returning and recently have discovered a wealth of new Inca estates in the surrounding hills around Cusco.
This is truly the gateway to the Inca’s ‘Valle Sagrado’ or Sacred Valley, home to some of the world’s greatest ancient sites including of course the emblematic Machu Picchu which continues to draw the crowds.
The country is desperately trying to shake off its back packer destination image, and attract more affluent tourists to grow the economy. Security on city streets is excellent with police or community offices in many areas and there is a zero tolerance towards poor behaviour from drunk back packers.
What’s more this is a great time to visit, with hardly anyone here, and the countryside is emerald green. Next, Machu Picchu!

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Andrew ForbesTravel and Lifestyle Marketing Communications Consultant | Travel Editor and Content Writer Web: Twitter: @andrewaforbes Instagram: @andrewaforbes and @luxurynavigatorView all posts by Andrew Forbes »