Cusco & Machu Picchu, Peru

Day 23-26: Cusco, Peru

We touched down in Cusco after 12 hours of taxis, planes and transfers from Rio and Lima and welcomed the cool mountain air.


I’m a tropical climate girl at heart, but we were both ready for a new country and scenery. My flu was now on day 7 without any sign of slowing down, so I was also hoping the change in weather and altitude might improve things.

Our hostel sat at the top of a hill looking over the city, and looked more like a college campus/apartment complex (in a good way). We had splurged $56/night for a private room for my birthday, and were led up several flights of stairs to what we called the penthouse suite, complete with a view of the entire city and mountains beyond.


Hands down, best $56 ever spent (the beds were a dream, too).

I knew something was off when I struggled to make it up just one flight of stairs, and my illness wasn’t to blame. The altitude caught up to me as soon as we settled into our room as my head began to pound and my heart wouldn’t stop racing.


Cusco sits at 11,200 feet above sea level and altitude sickness can start to set in at 8000 feet. Machu Picchu is at 7970, for reference (convenient, right?)


Our symptoms subsided after that first night but for the next week spent in Cusco, my heart rate was always elevated and it was difficult to walk at any incline. High altitude is no joke!


Lucas stocked up on meds from the pharmacy for me and we immediately extended our stay, spending much of the next 3 days and nights huddled in bed, enjoying the hot showers and watching the sky change colors from our window.


We did manage to squeeze in a day tour of the city, stopping at a ruins site and getting up close and personal with llamas.


After the tour we were dropped off nowhere near our hostel in the pouring rain, so we found the nearest local spot to grab dinner and it was every bit as good as we’d been told to expect from Peru—and so much cheaper than Brazil!


The following day we set out in search for warmer clothing, which is a challenge to find in a city full of all tourist shops. We located something labeled “Mall” on our GPS and headed in that direction.


Several streets off the main tourist square, we had clearly entered the locals area with residents selling fruit and vegetables on the sidewalks of narrow roads and alleyways. Eventually we ended up in front of an enclosed building with rows of open storage units where vendors hung and stacked piles of their wares for sale.


We roamed the aisles, looking for normal clothes until we both found a pair of knockoff brand sweatpants—not nearly the bargain we expected them to be and you can’t haggle on the prices either—but we got them anyway.


The real gem of this outing was the row of “restaurants” on the other end, aka a couple people in a cubby cooking food. We ordered something we had never heard of for 5 soles each (less than $2) and were handed a big bowl of some sort of delicious rice, chicken and potato concoction.


A mug of freshly squeezed papaya/strawberry and mango juice from the cubicle next door and we had ourselves the best lunch in town for around $7. And this town is very touristy, so we’re hoping to really save money once we head to the lesser traveled towns.

Day 27-28:  Machu Picchu

By day 4 in Cusco my hearing still hadn’t fully returned and the congestion and nightly coughing fits weren’t going away, but we were anxious to get to Machu Picchu and I felt well enough to take the trip, so we booked it that day (ps: anyone have recommendations on how to clear stubborn head/ear congestion?!)


There are several ways to get there, and we had originally planned on doing a jungle trek which is 4 days of mountain biking, ziplining, water rafting and hiking but with my current condition that was no longer an option. Instead we decided to do the bus/train/bus route, which ended up being four hours of perhaps the most scenic drive I’ve ever witnessed.


The bus led us through open fields and small Peruvian villages with clay homes built onto the side of a cliff opposite steep forested mountains and rivers below.

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The staggering size and presence of the Andes mountains as you near Machu Picchu can only be truly appreciated in person. They rise from the earth abruptly, like a wall of granite and jungle straight to the sky with their peaks permanently shrouded by clouds. Our train had windows in the ceiling just so you could see the top of them.


On Friday afternoon we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the small town just outside of Machu Picchu. A hot springs nearby had been recommended, so we figured we’d give the cities’ namesake a visit.


It rained as we walked through the village with no cars, past souvenir shops and a football field, over bridges and up muddy hills.


The view from the top was beautiful, even in the rain and foggy mountains.


We stayed in the pool for over two hours, drinking pisco sours and making friends with Canadians, and coincidentally meeting two different people from my small hometown. The steady downpour continued as we soaked in the steamy sulphuric water, and it was one of our simplest yet best memories of Peru.


At 5:23am on Saturday the alarm rang and off we went, eager to witness this wonder of the world. The 25 minute bus ride to the entrance felt as if we were stepping back into the Jurassic period—I was half expecting to see a dinosaur pop out from behind a mountain.


The early morning fog was thick, but that didn’t take away from the majestic beauty just steps from the entrance.

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We followed a tour guide for the first two hours, who led us through the ruins, teaching of Incan history. It rained off and on with a steady inflow of clouds and fog, enveloping the surrounding mountains.

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This has to be the most photogenic place on earth… half of these images are from my iphone. Can you tell which ones? (I can’t).


Just as the Incas did, we prayed to the Sun God and within a couple hours, the skies began to clear.

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For seven hours we explored Machu Picchu—discovering hiding spots in the ruins, finding the best vantage points and taking selfies with llamas, naturally.

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While a trek would have been amazing, it wasn’t in the cards for us but I wouldn’t trade our experience for anything. We both agreed it was the best day of our trip so far, and we were able to relax and take our time (and witness the scenery in a range of weather).


As I write this now on the bus back to Cusco, images of Machu Picchu are all I can see when I close my eyes—they’ve been forever burned into my mind, and I hope I never forget the feeling of this day.


On our last day in Cusco, the sky put on a farewell display in the form of a double rainbow:


Best way to end an unforgettable birthday week. Last night we left the city for a week long (potentially longer) bus trip around the south of Peru where we’ll eventually end up in Lima. Machu Picchu may be the most breathtaking sight, but we’re ready for a new adventure (and lower altitude!)

Follow my instagram stories & snapchat to watch live daily updates and join us for the ride! More on the way from Peru…


20 thoughts on “Cusco & Machu Picchu, Peru

  1. Absolutely amazing. South America and Machu Piccu are top of my bucket list. So jealous of this amazing journey and hoping I can get heaps of tips.

  2. I had the chance to visit Peru a few years ago to visit a college friend. I spent most of my time in Lima while she showed me around. It was amazing to not only see the city/country, but to see if from her perspective (she’s Peruvian/American). It’s worth it to go downtown to see the palace and capital buildings because the architecture is amazing. In that big square there’s a hotel called Maury’s (I think) and there’s a bar there where the Pisco Sour originated. It’s all wood paneled and very gentleman’s club-like. For many years women weren’t even allowed in. A block or so over there’s also this amazing hole in the wall churro place. These are not your average churros that are sqeezed out into oil. These are rolled and filled with custard, then fried and sugared. SO amazing. If you want an interesting experience, go to the clothing district just to walk around for a few minutes. Just stop and stand and watch the hub of activity around you. It’s this amazing sense of motion that I can’t even describe. Tens of thousands of people just moving. If you can go for ceviche, do it. Eat lucema icecream or yogurt or anything with lucema in it (it’s a fruit, typically called an egg fruit in English). There’s a park in the Mirrecoles district called JFK park. There are a ton of cats in the park from years ago when they introduced them to help control the rodents while they were trying to re-establish the tourist center of the city. The city now has an adopt a cat program where people can donate to help pay for the cats to be fixed. When you go in the park you’ll see people feeding them and playing with them, kind of like free animal therapy. It’s quirky and fun. Enjoy your time!

  3. You guys are so cute together… Keep yourself well hydrated especially with the flu and the high altitude! Wishing you guys a happy and safe trip.

      1. Garlic, garlic & more garlic will help your immune system. & honey & lemon if it’s available to you, that will help the congestion. Enjoy the Journey of your new life. Soooo happy for you both, what a sweet couple you both are! Much happiness

        1. Thank you Debra! It’s hard to find those basic items here that are so plentiful back home… but water and vitamin C and Peruvian teas have been our go-to!

  4. The pictures are breathtaking. As usual I am enjoying your adventures. I am an arm chair traveler. Glad you have company with you this time. Enjoy your adventure.

  5. Breathtaking scenery! I home I get to visit there someday.

    For congestion, sinus rinse (where salted water flows delicately through the nose) works well; I have à tendency towards sinusitis, and that’s the main thing the doctors prescribe here, along with some tylenol sinus. Good luck!

  6. For congestion, I am a huge fan (and user) of Alkalol with the nasal syringe. It is more homeopathic natural eucalyptus. It is wonderful. I hope you feel better!

  7. I love Machu Picchu. My father is from Lima and I’ve been able to visit Peru a few times. Try The Pollo A La Brasa when you have a chance. Its AMAZING!!

  8. Oh poor Jenna, sick while travelling. That is the trick I usually pull and if not sick then headachy. What a bummer. I do hope you feel well soon.

  9. Those photos are amazing. MachuPichu is on my list of places to go. We have a Colorado cabin at 8500 feet and I have learned to push Gatorade on everyone that comes to visit. It is very good for altitude adjustment for some reason. Try it…although it doesn’t solve the cold and head congestion!

  10. LLAMAS!
    Awesome pictures, Jenna! A friend of mine will go to Cuzco on August as well. She promised me to bring a gift with llamas on it. Maybe some day I can go there too!

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