Cusco

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. 
The great affair is to move."    - Robert Louis Stevenson


   I arrived in Cusco at the crack of dawn, stepping off the coach which had been my mobile prison for the last twenty hours. I say prison, but I was smart enough to pay a little extra and get the bigger, farther reclining seat, making the journey from Lima much more bearable. My first priority was to get to the hostel I had booked and try to get a few more hours of sleep. Thankfully the taxi service was both cheap and reliable, and brought me right to the entrance of the Dragonfly hostel. Since I'm on the topic, I will go ahead and tell you how much I recommend this hostel. Not only is the staff fantastic, but the travelers who come here are part of the chill crowd rather than our more rambunctious counterparts. The hostel boasts and open air terrace/bar in the middle of the complex, and the dorms are spacious with locker for your belongings. My arriving in the middle of winter meant that it was freezing throughout the complex, but I was pleasantly surprised that the staff provided huge comfy wool blankets to keep you super cozy at night! Another plus for the hostel is the downstairs bar. They often host different food nights, such as BBQ or tacos, and they also have an in house microbrewery, so you can try some really interesting homemade beers! I definitely recommend the place for your stay!


  After a few more glorious hours of unconscious bliss, I set out to see the town and was in for another surprise! I arrived right at the beggining of the Corpus Christi festival! Now, I have learned that Peruvians will use any excuse to have a party, but this time in particular has a bit of history behind it. When the conquistadors brought Christianity into the region, they found it difficult to fully convert the local populations to the concept fully. The locals held a strong connection to the land, and celebrated the gifts of Paccha Mama, or Mother Earth. They were not opposed to incorporating another deity into their beliefs, but were not willing to give up the values they already had to do so. The creation of the Corpus Christi festival is actually based on another festival that had been celebrated for generations before the conquistadors arrival. This was the festival for winter solstice held in late June, celebrating Paccha Mama. The conquistadors, in attempt to more fully convert the population, created Corpus Christi at the same time as the winter solstice festivities so that the locals would celebrate Christianity instead of their pagan values. Unforeseen by the conquistadors, the Peruvians adopted the festival, but used it to worship both Christ and the Paccha Mama! Celebrating both equals bigger party! So while the official festival takes place on June 24, the festivities go on for most of the month of June! For travelers, this is an amazing opportunity to try local cuisines and observe Peruvian culture at its core! Traditional dances will be held in the streets, and parades of floats denoting the fifteen saints and virgins travelto the cathedral to visit the body of Christ. The telltale sound of firecrackers will pop on a constant basis, and popup food vender will entice you to come and try traditional food (this is your opportunity to try Cuy!). And make sure to keep an eye on the skies at night for illuminations of fireworks!


  So for those traveling at any time of the year, here are a few things to do in the city!

Cathedral: the main cathedral is located in Plaza de Armas, and opens at 6am. Warning, after 9am they begin to charge quite a toll for admission, so make sure to get there early! Also, they will sometimes have 'volunteers' at the doors before 9am that will try and get tourists to leave and come back later so they can charge you admission! Do not surrender! If you say you have come to pray, there is nothing they can do! 

San Pedro Market: this is a huge market, boasting tenders of textiles, handicrafts, ceramics, art, and food! It can be quite crowded, so leave your valuables at the hostel, and make sure to try the fresh squeezed juiced (choose orange juice based instead of water based). Here you can also buy your own coca leaves and make some coca tea (mate de coca) to help with the elevation change! 

Free Walking Tour: this tour meets at the center of of Plaza de Armas, and takes about two hours (ask for start times from your hostel staff). It is all tip based, so it fits the checkbook for every traveler! I definitely, reccommend it, as it gives you a lot of background information about the city and Peruvian culture in general! The tour also ends with a free shot of a typical Peruvian liquer!


So while Cusco is a fantastic city to get a real taste of Peruvian culture, the main reason a lot of us travel here is to make our way to Machu Picchu! For all of you last minute travelers, those of you on a budget, or those who want to take a non typical trip, this next bit is for you! Cusco is absolutely littered with travel agencies! Each selling slightly different trips, but for the most part they are the same. I'm sorry to say that if you were hoping to hike the Inca trail, if you hadn't purchased your ticket at least three months beforehand online, you are out of luck. It is impossible. New governmental policy states that only 500 people (including your porters, cooks and guides) are allowed to begin the trail each day. This means that spaces are super limited, reservations expensive, and the trail pretty crowded. But you are in luck! There are other (better in my opinion) options! These are called the 'Alternative Treks'. There are a few different ones to name, but the biggest sellers are the 'Salkantay Trek' and the 'Jungle Trek'. The Salkantay takes you along an old Inca trail (yes there is more than 1) through the mountains to Mt. Salkantay! This is really cool, because while the official Inca trail boast a few cool ruins, the Salkantay is a mountain that was revered by the people as a deity! So, ruins or giant mountain God; which is cooler? With the trail package you trek for about 5 days and includes all of your food, entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, and your train ride back. You get all of this at about $250 (compare to $500+ for Inca Trail). This is a pretty amazing deal (and the the trek I chose). Your second option is a 3-4 day jungle trek which takes you mountain biking and rafting all the way to Machu Picchu! I've heard great things about this trek, and the promo videos look super fun! Definitely the choice for the sports enthusiast, and costs about $200! Amazing deals that are not nearly as crowded as the Inca trail, and cost a fraction of the price! 

Heading to Macchu Picchu aren't the only trip options you can find at the numerous travel agencies! There are several day trips for as little as $20 to different ruins or natural wonders around the region! You can also find 'Manu Jungle Treks' which are 4-5day trips to the heart of the Amazon Rainforest! See Jaguars, fish for (and eat!) Piranah, and discover the wonders of nature! Sitting at about $300, this trek will be sure to give you lifelong memories! For those of you who may not own or have pack for such venture, the town has several outdoors shops where you can buy any type of outdoor gear you could ever need! 


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