Without traveling here, the city “Cusco” would only make me think of Disney’s character Kuzco, from “Emperor’s New Groove”. I never really thought when I watched that cartoon more than ten years ago that there even was a place called Cusco in Peru that I would one day visit.
I’m apparently the worst planner ever, because I’d scheduled us to fly to the jungle two days before the biggest yearly festival in Cusco, Inti Raymi. I definitely hit myself when I talked to other travellers who said they’d planned their entire trip around this particular event. Luckily, we were able to enjoy the pre-festival drumming, costumes and dancing in the main plaza from above at our seat at a restaurant. Starting in 1412, Inti Raymi was a religious ceremony to celebrate the god Inti, one of the most holy gods in Inca religion and probably why it was the most important festival of the four celebrated in Cusco.
At an elevation of 3,400m (11.200ft), Cusco is one of those places people warn you about! Despite having prepared and acclimatized in Urubamba (2,870m/9,420ft) a simple stroll was breathtaking for more than one reason. I told Kees, “You know how I can tell I’m at high altitude?” “How” “I can’t talk so much.” “Really?” “Yeah.” “We need to move to higher altitude.” But really, it’s a strange feeling to be so out of breath without doing any strenuous activities.
Expecting the internet connection to be better than in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu (unfortunately we were wrong about that), I planned to spend four days relaxing and catching up on some work in Cusco. The first two days went as planned, we enjoyed strolling (at an extremely slow pace) the romantically crumbled streets with their colourful doors, watching the going-ons and preparation for their annual Inti Raymi AKA Festival of the Sun and eating delicious food in different restaurants and sleeping in in our comfortable Tambo Del Arriero hotel room.
Unfortunately on the morning of the second day in Cusco, Kees was extremely uncomfortable and dizzy because of the altitude. He hadn’t slept well since we’d arrived in Cusco and it was only getting worse. Before leaving Aguass Calientes (town below Machu Picchu), we had called a doctor to ensure we weren’t being stupid and going to get ourselves killed by taking the train 1,000+m (3,300ft) higher to Cusco. He checked the oxygen in our blood and said 85-100 is good and we both had 99! So with doctors permission we’d taken our train the few hours back up to Cusco.
High altitude and being born with abnormally small lungs for his size probably isn’t a great mix, so we quickly decided we needed to retreat to lower altitude even if it meant a few hundred metres. We contacted Giancarlo, manager of Sacred Dreams Lodge in Urubamba who insisted we come back and stay with him. Within ten minutes we were packed and heading back to the Sacred Valley, hoping to recover before heading into the jungle two days later. At that point, I was still suffering from a sore throat, aching back and brutal cough. The fact that Kees was starting to get altitude sickness and also had a fever from the sunburn he got at Machu Picchu was unnerving. I didn’t like the idea of going into the remote jungles feeling the way we did.
This is how Cusco made us feel.
– I scheduled four days in Cusco, but many will tell you that is way too long and to spend that time in the Sacred Valley. I would have to agree with that advice, the only reason I planned to stay so many days was because I knew we had 6 weeks and would be needing a place to catch up and rest before continuing with our demanding itinerary.
You must be careful with the high altitude in Peru. Come prepared. When I trekked to Everest Base Camp (18,500ft) I didn’t take anything more than the natural herb, gingko and was absolutely fine. This time, I took it and it didn’t seem to be as effective. Many people recommended Diamox which you should take two days before reaching high altitude. Stay hydrated and start somewhere lower. You really shouldn’t go straight from Lima to Cusco and stay. Head to the Sacred Valley where it is slightly lower. It makes a difference.
– Plan ahead and be aware of festivities and special events going on when you travel! You don’t want to miss out.
Categories: Savannah Grace