Time and time again, I get asked about my trip to Cusco. Although, I’ve shared stories, I never fully wrote a guide or given any tips to Cusco.
So as someone who has gone and has been to Peru plenty of times, here’s 10 things to know before going to Cusco.
1. Prepare for the altitude
One of the mistakes I’ve seen people do is that some will go to Cusco without thinking about the altitude.
The altitude in Cusco is 11,152 feet, while the altitude in Machu Picchu is 7,972 feet.
The problem is Cusco because of how high the altitude is and our bodies are just not used to being in that high of an altitude. So before thinking of going to Cusco make sure you prepare for the altitude and acclimate properly.
Good ways to prepare and acclimate:
- Once you arrive, buy yourself some coca candy or coca tea.
- Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water!
- Go directly to the hotel and rest for a bit.
- If you want to explore, take it easy! It’s not a good idea to go hiking right away.
If you do not prepare and decide to go hiking right away, you will get altitude sickness, which is when your body doesn’t have time to acclimate to the high altitude.
2. Wear layers
The weather in Cusco varies. I went during the winter time and although it was cold in Cusco, hiking up to Machu Picchu made the weather feel warm. It’s always a good idea to dress in layers, that way you aren’t carrying a whole lot to Machu Picchu and aren’t freezing or dying from the heat.
3. Make sure your currency is in good condition
In Cusco, American bills are accepted, but only if it’s in good condition. This means you cannot have damaged bills – no rips or holes!
To save you the trouble of making sure your bills will be accepted, it’s better to exchange them to the Peruvian currency.
4. Do not take photos without permission
This should be well known to everyone, but when we travel most of us often take photos of foreigners. In Peru, however a lot of people are sensitive to their photos being taken.
Peruvians in general do not mind, as long as you ask and tip them. In Cusco, there’s plenty of colorfully dressed ladies that are happy to take a photo for a tip.
As for Military and Police, you should always ask because if you don’t, you may get your camera confiscated.
5. Haggle away!
One thing I love about Peru is that you can haggle. I try not to haggle as much since I know that the items I’m buying are handmade, but on the other hand, Peruvians like to overprice things, especially for tourists.
If you don’t look like them, you don’t speak Spanish and look like a tourists, many will take advantage and raise their prices up. However, if you haggle with them you are able to lower the price down.
6. Arrive a few days in advance before trekking
As mentioned in tip number one, you need to prepare for the altitude and not start a trek right away. If you get off a plane and go trekking five hours later, your body is not going to feel well at all. You will most likely have a hard time getting through the trek.
Instead, plan to arrive a few days before the trek and take some time to sightsee and acclimate to the altitude. Once you are acclimated, trekking will be much easier and you won’t have to go days feeling ill!
7. Take toilet paper with you
Many of the restrooms in Peru will not have toilet paper. Either they won’t have it or they will charge you for it.
Instead of wondering if the bathroom you go to, in Cusco, has toilet paper, save yourself the hassle and pack some toilet paper or buy some at a local store.
8. Be careful with the Llamas
Llamas, Vicuñas, and Alpacas are all cute until they spit on you. That’s right, if you get too close to any one of these animals, they will either spit on you or kick you.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get close to them without being spit on, but unfortunately my husband did get spit on by a Vicuña (and he was raised in Peru!).
So be cautious when getting close to one. Rather than getting close to one that is roaming around Machu Picchu, find a local that has one as a pet. These are usually more tamed and well behaved!
9. Do take a tour
Rather than trekking to Machu Picchu, I decided to take a tour that would take me to all the cool spots.
This tour took me to Museo de Arte Popular, Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha, Saqsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo. I spent the whole day going to all these different places and the next day ended up in Machu Picchu. To learn more about the tour I took and what company I used, check out my Journey to Machu Picchu post.
10. Take a filtered water bottle with you
When I travel, I never drink tap water. I’ve heard so many stories from people getting sick from drinking tap water and Peru is not an exception.
Since you need to stay hydrated due to the altitude, I suggest taking a filtered water bottle or if you are able to boil water in Cusco, that works too!
Cusco is such a wonderful city to visit and there’s so many great things to do there! As long as you are aware of what you are getting into – high altitude, weather changes etc…then you will have no problem enjoying all the magnificent things this city has to offer.
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