Cusco Favourites

As the very first destination on my travels, Cusco holds a special place in my heart. It's the city where I felt so incredibly lonely and lost, the city where I seriously asked myself if I had taken the right decision in travelling alone... Yet also the city in which I saw endless oppurtunities unfold before my eyes, where I got a taste of the wonders travel has to offer and knew within every molecule in my body that I could not have made a better choice than coming here.

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I slowly fell in love with Cuscos cobblestone streets which I walked up and down and up and down, panting frantically during the first days before I got used to the altitude. 

I had a complete freakout when I 'lost'  my credit card, which led to an experience of uttermost kindness of generosity from complete strangers.

I cried my eyes out on the morning of the US election results and connected with people from all over the world who felt similarily desperate. 

Most of all, I met so many interesting, kind and intelligent people. I might not meet them again, but some of these conversations gave me an entirely new perspective and planted seeds for though which I'm excited to cultivate.

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Without further ado, Here are some of my favourite places in Cusco!

 

  • Supertramp Hostel 
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This place was everything I needed.

Situated at the top of Sun Blas, it's quite the hike to get to...after which you're rewarded with an amazing view over Cusco. Their outside are is perfect for getting to know people just as well as chilling out with a book and the people working there were extremely welcoming; they took me out with them for Halloween on my first night there and we had a great time! I loved that most of them were latin americans, so I could improve my spanish skills, but they also spoke english.

The rooms are the best I've stayed in so far: each bed has its own locker at the foot of the bed, a little shelf on the wall, a power plug and a small light. If you close the curtains, you basicalyy have your own little room!

 This hostel is definitely not cheap, but you more than get what you pay for, I would recommend this 100%! It's nice and quiet if you want to relax and you can also party with the staff if that's what you're into.

 

  • Green Point & The Vegan Temple 

Cusco has a bustling vegan/vegetarian restaurant scene and these two were my favourites. 

Green point has everything your heart could desire: from dumplings to (vegan) tiramisu to banana waffles, it's all there and every single dish I tasted was outstanding! I haven't met a single person who went there and didn't absolutely love it.

I only took pictures of the breakfast I had there (I was mostly too busy devouring the food as soon as it got to the table). The samosas and creole soup are to die for and I also adored the banana waffles and vegetable korma. 

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The Vegan Temple is extremely different and equally delicious! It's a small family-owned restaurant where you eat sitting on cushions on the floor while meditation music is playing in the background...

Their lassis are gigantic and super creative in the flavour combinations available, the carribean curry I had was sweet, salty and spicy heaven and their burgers are some of the best I've ever had. Also, the price is unbeatable! 

 

  • San Blas 

This neighbourhood feels like you've stepped into a different world. Away from the busy streets in the centre of the city, you can find vintage shops, yoga studios, small cafes and everything inbetween. I spent a few days just walking around, grabbing a cup of coffee at L'atelier and doing some yoga at Yoga Room or just enjoying the sun at plaza San Blas. 

This was by far my favourite area in the city! 

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  • The Maras Salt Ponds

Ou of the sights I visited around Cusco, the salinas de Maras definitely stood out. The number of aslt ponds is growing continuously as more families move to the town of Maras, since everyone has the right to their own salt pond. It is quite the sight, rows and rows of rectangles of different shades of white continuing seemingly endlessly into the distance.

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 Cusco in general was not love at first sight for me. However, I truly adored these places (and more) and don't regret spending more than a week in this city. Cusco is definitely worth more than just a short stopover o the way to Machu Picchu!

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The Salkantay Trek - an alternative route to Machu Picchu

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Standing at the highest point of our 5-day trek, there was no doubt in my mind, that this was worth every drop of sweat, every single pain-filled step.

Stopping to catch my breath and being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Seeing the bluest lake in my life. Laughing histerically at each other's tired faces, bonding over quinoa soup and popcorn, sharing tents and altitude sickness medicine,... I can't count the moments during these 5 days in which I felt so grateful I thought my heart might burst. 

This trip exceeded all my expectations.

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I was woken up on friday morning by two girls talking in my dorm room. At 3:15 am, they were happily chatting away, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they weren't alone in the room. Oh well, I thought to myself, I may as well get up 5 minutes earlier than planned. So I got ready and stood in the raining at 3:40. 10 minutes later, a minivan pulled up but to my disappointment, they weren't there to pick me up. When I told them who I was waiting for, the driver replied 'oh, they're looking for you!'. How, I thought to myself, could they be looking for me when I was here on time? I continued to panick for about 5 minutes until it hit me: it was 4am. I was only supposed to be picked up at 4:40.

Too tired to be angry, I walked back to my hostel to sleep for another 20 minutes before the tour agency finally pulled up 40 minutes later. 

Thankfully, this unlucky start was the worst thing that would happen in the following days... 

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I feel like trying to put this entire experience into words would be pointless, so instead I'll leave you with my personal highlights:

• the group.

While the nature alone would have made this experience worthwhile for me, what truly made it special where the people. Not once did someone get truly annoyed, it seemed as though everyone really wanted to be there and tried their best to contribute to the positive atmosphere.

Coming from Canada, Brazil, Panama, England, Germany, Spain and of course Luxembourg with ages ranging from 19 to 40+, we still all had one thing in common: we wanted to enjoy this trip. There was never any rush to go faster, people happily waited for the last person and laughter was abundant. To me, it is exceptional that there wasn't a single moment of tension, given the lack of sleep we had... I am so incredibly grateful to have met each and every one of them!

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• the lake at Salkantay Pass.

After we got to the highest point of the trip, all I wanted to was to descend. However, I went with the general decision to walk to a lake not far from the pass, and I'm so glad I did. I have never seen anything like this. The water looked so pristine and was of the most beautiful turquoise colour, I was unsure if this could actually be real.

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• entering the jungle.

On the 3rd day of trekking, we only hiked during the morning, and the trek was never too steep (uphill or downhill), which made for an enjoyable hike. After being in the Andes with their mountain climate for 2 days, walking into the jungle area was just what I'd needed. The surroundings slowly got greener and greener, butterflies were everywhere and the air just smelled  differently. I was in heaven. All morning, there was a spring to my step as my legs felt a few kilograms lighter . This was by far my favourite day of the trek (visiting the hot springs in the afternoon didn't hurt either).

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• Machu Picchu. 

Surprise surprise, these ancient Inka ruins didn't disappoint.  I took the first bus up (2000 steps?no thanks) so we  were among the first people to enter Machu Picchu. And it was just as magical as everybody said: surrounded by green mountains, this city exudes an energy that cannot be put into words. I tried to capture it through my camera and I'll let you be the judge.

 

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So this is my experience with the Salkantay Trek... I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who wants to experience something a little different (and also less expensive) than the Inca Trail.

To me, the trek made the journey worthwhile and if you're capable, I highly suggest you do one when visiting Machu Picchu.

To anyone who's wondering, I went with Salkantay Trekking and I was 100% happy with the way they organised the trip! 

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Hiking Rainbow Mountain

When we went to the travel agency to book our day trip to rainbow mountain, we were told that the hike was easy enough, a mixture of flat and steep terrain.

Now, I would have done the hike no matter what they said. However, this made me feel quite confident and I was convinced I'd be one of the first to make it to the top.

I had however completely underestimated the effects 4000-5000m of altitude can have on your body... In fact, this was the toughest thing I've done in my entire life. 

Let's back up a little though... 

At 3:30 am, two girls I'd met and I were standing in front of the hostel, waiting to be picked up. When the minibus finally came at 4, it was already almost full, but we each managed to get a window seat and tried to sleep for the next 3 hours. This prooved to be rather difficult cause the roads were bumpy and curved, so I got little more than 30 minutes of sleep before we arrived at our destination. 

When we got off, we were in the middle of nowhere; Alpacas were grazing on surrounding farmland and the sun had just risen. We walked towards a tent where we had brakfast (bread and coca tea for me), before heading off on the hike. 

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I knew that this was not going to be the relaxed walk I'd imagined, when our guide started telling us to go faster almost immediately...at that point, Amandine and I were even still at the front of the group!

After the first "climb", my heart was beating so fast I thought it might jump out of my chest any minute, I felt incredibly dizzy and simply couldn't imagine to keep going like this for another 3 and a half hours. Luckily, Amandine felt the same, so we decided to take it very very slowly, all that mattered was that we got to the top. 

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While the third girl in our girl forged ahead at an incredible pace, the two off us took the smalest steps possible, only trying not to faint(me) or to get rid off a pounding headache(Amandine).

Up until that day, I'd thought myself to be rather fit, but this hike made me seriously question my capabilities...after every little hill waited another one, and in the distance we could see all that we still had to conquer.  

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I'll spare you more whining, we made it in the end and being at the top was beautiful enough to make me forget all the pain I'd endured...I just couldn't stop smiling!

I mean how could you not with a view like that?(the pictures don't even do it justice)

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The hike down was rather stressful, since our guide kept pushing us to go faster so we wouldn't miss lunch (even though we'd told him we didn't care) and we both got an awful headache from descending so quickly...I was happy we pushed ourselves though, cause 10 minutes after we got to the tent, it started pouring rain and hail outside. Throughout our hike, we'd been blessed with sunshine and now it looked as if the world was going to end.

Everything afterwards was uneventful, I was so physically tired that even walking the 300m to our hostel was exhausting. 

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Now, would I recommend doing it?Definitely! 

If you're not as proud (or stupid) as me, you can even rent a horse to take you to the top, which I imagine could make the whole day more comfortable. However, even if you do want to hike, I can only suggest that you go at your own pace and don't let anybody tell you otherwise! And you might be so lucky to not feel the altitude as much.

If I were to do it again, I would either book through a different agency or better yet, try to do it on my own. I'm not sure how possible this is but if you can get a taxi driver to get you to the starting point and wait until you get back for ~100 soles per person, I would definitely do it this way. 

In the end,hiking rainbow mountain was one of the most physically challenging and at the same time rewarding experiences of my life,and if you're ever in Peru,I'd seriously consider doing it!

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P.S. our agency was dream's journey peru. It's possible that we were just unlucky but I wouldn't necessarily recommend them. 

Arriving in Cusco

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Cusco, my legs felt incredibly heavy and unstable at once, my head was so dizzy that I thought I might faint,...so I guess 3400m is no joke. 

A chilean woman on my plane must have noticed that I was kinda lost, since she offered to share ataxi to the city centre. Determinately, she walked past every taxi dirver who wouldn't take us for 15 soles (that's just over 4€), until we'd found someone who agreed to the price. 

Though I'd felt like maybe my Spanish wasn't all that bady, this newfound confidence dissipated into thin air within less than 1 minute spent sitting in that taxi. Listening to the driver chatting happily with the chilean woman, I desperately tried to understand anything at all... 

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Arriving at the hostel all alone was strange... A single thought kept repeating in my mind: What am I supposed to do now? 

All the excitement I'd felt during the months spent planning this trip was suddenly gone and in its place sat a deep feeling of being sad and lost. However, some part of me must have known that it was mainly the altitude and lack of sleep which mad me feel so terrible, since I decided to go out to eat at the only vegan restaurant in town (cause what else would I do?) 

Now, though the food was phenomenal, the thing that made this lunch special was the conversation I had with the guy I shared a table with...it made me feel so instantly better. THIS is why I am doing this after all; to meet people and have honest conversations, without even knowing each other's last name. 

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Only after that meal could I see the beauty of Cusco... The indoor market where everything from toilet paper to handmade bags is sold, th children running around seemingly everywhere, the Andes in the background...

So while my first day didn't go exactly as imagined, I feel good in Cusco and am excited to see more of it once I get used to the altitude...oh, and the cold. It's bloody freezing. 

Hasta luego! 

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How to flood a train toilet or my journey so far

I knew something like this was bound to happen, I just didn't think it would happen quite so soon.

Basically, when I sat down in the train that would take me to Brussels, I wanted to take my overnight oats out of my tote bag and only had half of the mason jar in my hand. It had broken of course.

Trying to clean up the brown gloopy mess in my bag, I went to the toilet and decided to pour it into the sink.

Don't. Ever. Pour something into a train toilet sink that's not 100% liquid. It WILL clog the entire thing.

While I was still trying to figure out what to do next, the train started moving from side to side and the brownish liquid in the sink landed on the floor, building a puddle on whichever side the train was leaning towards. I realised that there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation so I just cleaned everything as best as I could, threw my tote bag in the trash and left the toilet, my lunch and water bottle in hand.

Imagine the faces of the two guards when I told them the good news. They were not happy at all.

Apart from this incident, the train ride went smoothly though, apart from the fact that I left my hat on the last train. Oh well, it wouldn't be me if I hadn't already lost/destroyed at least two of my things.

Now can my bags PLEASE get to Peru with me? I think this is enough chaos for a few days.