[Day 10] Cusco City Tour and Cooking Class

We’ve been in Cusco since day 5 but didn’t get to explore all of the city yet! So we dedicated the morning to just wandering around town. This was also the first day I got to sleep in a little. The weather was perfect for a city tour. We decided to walk around some major parts of the town and just sightsee and shop around.

Our first stop was at the Plaza de Armas. We’ve seen it in passing so it was just nice to walk through it and take in the beautiful architecture. The two major buildings that stand out is the Cusco Cathedral and the Natural History Museum. During our visit, the City started to renovate(?) the Plaza’s central sculpture piece but the Plaza was just bustling with people.

Right next to the Museum, there was a Starbucks. One thing I like to do is to try different frapps from different country’s Starbucks. And Peru had one unique one called Lucuma frapp. I just had to try it. So we headed to Starbucks and was quite amazed at their courtyard and their view of the plaza. If you want to grab some coffee and get a nice view, I recommend this place! (Of course, you might be able to find a nice local cafe nearby too).

So Lucuma. I’m not sure if I would say I liked it but it definitely was interesting. The explanation the staff gave me was that it would be close to a butterscotch flavor? But to me, it was just a tad bit too sweet and I wasn’t sure how to distinguish the lucuma flavor 😦 If anyone else has tried this in Peru, please let me know what you thought!

After grabbing the drink and enjoying the view, we were getting a bit hungry so we headed to Plaza San Blas area to find some cafe. From the guide book, it said that the San Blas area was like the “art-sy” area and was up and coming. There was an outdoor market here as well (mostly handmade goods) but also a lot of cafes and smaller restaurants. It was definitely less crowded but you still got the beauty of Cusco.

One thing. San Blas is on the hillside so from Plaza de Armas, it is going to be an upward walk. Be prepared. (But most of Cusco is this way)

While walking around, we found a nice cafe named Pantastico and bought several empanadas and a pie maracuya to go. I’ve heard of the maracuya fruit and I wanted to try it. They packed everything neatly and we headed back to the Plaza to eat while taking in the view. The empanadas were amazing and filled our stomach but the pie was too sour. If you like sour things, try maracuya!

As I said earlier, there was a small open marketing happening here. While looking around, we found ladies who had alpacas for photos! I’m not a big fan of paying for photos, the baby alpaca just got to me. The ladies are very nice and they let you take pictures with the baby on your lap or you holding him. After several pictures and 5 sol later, we were off exploring again.

From San Blas, we started to talk towards Mirador de Plaza San Cristobal. It was a bit of a hike but the road there was full of things to see. Lots of cafes with great views, colorful drawings on the street walls, and just the view of the city from up top! 3 combo! At first, walking up the hill was so hard! I felt like it was never ending (similar to Machu Picchu) but the interesting surrounding area made the hike more enjoyable.

And Mirador! 100% recommend if you want to see Plaza de Armas from above. The view of the city here is spectacular!

You can see things that are only visible when you are up top, such as the EL PERU written on the mountain. Here is a video of the view from San Cristobal.

Once we were done walking around the city, we headed to our cooking class. It’s always fun to take local cooking classes to learn about the history of the food culture and also to learn some new recipes. You never know what you might learn.

So after some research, we decided to take a class with Peruvian Cooking Class. The classes were small but offered various types of dishes. The location was very easy to find and was about 10 minute walking distance from Plaza de Armas. The first floor of the building was the cooking station and the second floor was the waiting room/dining room area.

When you make the booking, you have the option to choose which menu you want to make. The choice of menu is decided by the person who made the first booking for that day. So if you have something you really want to make, make the reservation first! We decided on menu #2 : Pisco Sour/Chicha Morada, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and chocolate.

Once we checked in, we found out that we were the only 2 people taking the class. Score! A private class. It was awesome! They even let us change the menu a bit. So we picked Chicha Morada as our drink, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and Arroz con Leche!

With the chef of the day, Yuli, we first got to try some local fruit: Granadilla, Tumbo, Lucuma, Perito Abuel, Lima, Pacay, and Golden Berry. I hope I got all the spelling right 🙂 Granadilla was my favorite and it tasted like passionfruit but much sweeter. Tumbo was also good. It used to be used in ceviche back in the days but when the Spanish brought Lemon, it was replaced. I got a real taste of Lucuma here and it was closer to a persimmon. Perito Abuel was small and tasted like sour apple. Lima looked like a small citrus but actually it didn’t taste like a citrus. It can actually replace lemongrass. Pacay looked like cotton balls. Very furry. And Golden Berry looked like a cherry tomato but very super sour.

After tasting several fruits, we made our grocery list and walked to San Pedro Market to buy our ingredients. What we didn’t know was that the Market was CLOSED until Monday! They were doing a massive cleanup for the festival.

So we went to a smaller market behind it. It was more local and less clean but we were still able to get everything. While shopping, Yuli continued to talk to us about Peruvian food and culture. She even helped us get some Granadilla for later.

Once we had everything, we headed back to the shop and started cooking. It was so much fun. Yuli explained everything, step by step, and demonstrated just a little and we had to do most of the actual work. She showed us how to cook the meal as well as plating it just right. The Palta Rellena was a chicken and potato salad and Lomo Saltado was stir fried beef with rice (one of my favorite Peruvian dish) and Arroz con Leche was sweet rice pudding. The meal was extremely satisfying. The fact that I made the food made it even better 😉 After cooking, we took our food upstairs and got to enjoy it as dinner. It was delicious.

And satisfied, we went shopping. I wanted to get some alpaca scarves for my family members so I visited SOL ALPACA. I wanted to get them something that was more authentic and trustworthy when they claimed 100% alpaca. SOL was considered a luxury brand and everything gave it a high rating so I gave it a try. Everything here was really soft and it did not give any scratchy feeling what-so-ever. Everything was really pretty and I wanted to buy everything but I stuck to my plan and purchased different colored scarves. Next time, I want to buy more!

[Day 9] Humantay Lake

Is it really a vacation if you are waking up at 4 am every morning? A question I was asking myself on this day. Our tour guide came to pick us up at 5 am at the hostel. We walked a bit to the main street and had to meet our ride there. This time, it was a tour bus (not a van). The walk to the bus was a bit hard since we had just woken up and the steps were really steep. Again, when you are making accommodation booking, read the reviews to see if there are any mention of steps or high hills.

We took the bus for about 2 hours to Mollepata Village and purchased our tourist ticket there. It was 10 sols but ours was included in the price so we did not have to pay extra. If your tour package did not include ticket prices, the tour guide will collect them later. Make sure you talk with your tour agency to see if ticket prices are included.

After purchasing our tickets, we continued to Soraypampa. Once at the foot of the mountain, we walked to the entrance of the trail and had breakfast there. The walk was beautiful! The snow capped mountains with all the greens was just a sight to see. It was also quite chilly here. I’m not sure if it was due to the mountain air or the morning chill but make sure to layer up!

We were served breakfast before the hike but this was worst than the breakfast at Rainbow Mountain. There really wasn’t a lot to eat so if you need some energy before a hike, bring your own meal!

After breakfast, we were all on our way. There was no official guide with us so we were all on our own. If you wanted to take a horse up, you would have to ask the guide before leaving. From the start of the trail, we could see Humantay Mountain and Salkantay. There were a lot of people taking the Salkantay trail but that would have to wait for another time.

The guide said the hike would take roughly 1 hour so we hurried along. This hike was even harder than Rainbow Mountain. The road was very rocky and steep. And a lot of the rocks were loose so watch your step here. When our guide said 1 hour, it didn’t seem so bad but I was wrong. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the top and I had to take a lot of breaks in the middle. I’m glad a lot of the hikers were encouraging each other and with everyone’s help, I made it.

And I’m so glad I hiked it because the view was 100% worth it! The mountain and the lake, a harmonious marriage. And the perfect weather made everything here extra wonderful. It was serene. There were lots of people at the top but I was still able to get some photos without anyone in them.

After taking in all the nature and all the photos, we started to walk back down. There is no horse for the downward hike because of all the loose rocks so make sure you get the timing right. The downward hike was just as hard as the upward because of how slippery the trail was. I even slipped a couple times even with hiking boots.

Once we were back at the start of the trail, they served us lunch. Lunch was better than breakfast, having things like soup, fried chicken, fried rice, pasta, and veggies. It wasn’t the best tasting food but after the hike, I needed it. We ate as much as we wanted and enjoyed the scenery before getting back on the bus. I thought it would be the same amount of time to get back to Cusco but the traffic didn’t agree with us and we arrived at 7 pm. I guess that is what you get for trying to enter the city on a Friday night.

We quickly dropped off our belong at the hostel and took an Uber to Mercado Molino. I needed a bigger bag for all the stuff and my companion needed to get a sim card. We were told that Mercado Molino would have everything and they were right! If you are thinking about doing shopping (not touristy), this place has it all! From clothing to electronics, you probably could find everything here. It was closer to what I would consider a mall. They even had a small food court at the front.

While waiting for my companion to register her sim card, I got some picarones, which are like peruvian fried donuts. They fried them as the orders came in so it was super fresh and so good. It was a great pick me up for 3 sol. Once my companion had internet, we roamed around the market. We found several stores that sold luggage and suitcases but vast majority of them did not take card. I didn’t have a lot of cash on me and the ATM machine at the market was not working. Luckily, my companion had some cash and she was also really good at bargaining so we were able to make a purchase. Mine (the purple one) went from 160 sol to 120 sol and hers from 150 sol to 100 sol. I think we did pretty good, right?

After all the shopping, we headed back to the hotel. The laundry was done and all the items were neatly folded and in a plastic bag. Our laundry at the hostel was 12 sol per kilo and I know this wasn’t cheap but I guess I was paying for the connivance. You can find laundry mats all around Cusco and the average price would be around 4~7 sol per kilo.

With the new luggage and clean clothes, I reorganized all my things. And it was so nice to see empty space in my bag for souvenirs! Next time, never take a full suitcase on a trip because you will definitely buy things.

[Day 6] Vinicunca

We had a 5am pickup so woke up at 4am to get ready. When I woke up, my body was feeling heavy. And when I was moving around in my room, my heart was beating fasting than normal. Is this altitude sickness? So just in case, I took some pills.

I also packed too light. My big mistake. So I had no actual winter clothes. Luckily, one of my companion gave me her padded vest and extra sweat pants. It was nice and warm and I really needed it. It was about 39 degrees in the morning and the van picked up several people. The van was pretty big, about 18 seater? and it got full. It was too early for me and I knocked out. 1 1/2 hr later, we stopped for breakfast. The area where we were for breakfast was higher than cusco so I was starting to feel the pressure a bit. But it still was bearable.

The breakfast was meh. They provided bread, sausage, fruits, soup, and tea. Lots of coca tea. I drank as much as I could since they said it was good for the altitude sickness. After breakfast, we drove for another hour and we arrived at rainbow mountain.

Provided breakfast

And goodness. The pressure was on. Even at the bottom I was dead. After walking like 20 steps, I was breathing hard. I wanted to walk up but I knew I wasn’t going to make it so I asked for a horse. You could pay for one way but round trip was cheaper (in case I need a ride down) and I’m so glad I did. One thing to remember. The horse does not go all the way to the top. There is a stopping point and from there, you have to walk up.

Riding my horse up!

I really wanted to walk up to the top. at least try. So I slowly walked. While walking, there were other tour guides saying that the easiest way to walk with altitude sickness was take 10 steps and take a 10 min break. I didn’t have that kind of time and I wanted to scream LOL But after taking small steps, I made it to the view point. I was at Rainbow Mountain!

The area was beautiful. Green colors with snowy tops and as we got higher, more colors. Red, yellow, green. It was spectacular. The guide said that the weather on this particular day was just perfect and I totally agreed. Pictures don’t do it justice. some of the colors were very vivid. But personally, I was miserable. The alltitute sickness here was hitting me hard.

Right at the view point

I was about 100 meters away from the top when my guide said we have to go back down. So I didn’t get to the top but I was up high enough to get some amazing photos. The weather was just perfect. No filter necessary. I was proud of myself for walking up to the point.

Colors of Vinicunca

I had to walk back down to the drop off area, find my horse person and ride back down. I passed out on the bus back. I was so tired.

After the tour, we got back to cusco. Once at Cusco, I didn’t feel sick any more. I walked around and shopped a bit or a nice pancho and ate Korean food at Sarangche. Not that I like eating Korean food while traveling but my travel companions really wanted it. We ordered some KBBQ pork belly and Kimchi Stew. It was pretty good. The warm soup really made me feel at home and comforted me.

Dinner from Saranche

Once we got back to our accommodation, we had to pack. The next 2 days, we were going to be on the road. When I packed for this trip, I told myself I wouldn’t shop so I packed a smaller suitcase. I brought a 17 inch luggage so I could carry it onboard. But who was I kidding. I needed a bigger luggage!

[Day 5] Off to Cusco

I love being on schedule and planning everything accordingly. But what is a vacation without sleeping in? I purposefully booked a flight flight to Cusco so I get catch up on some zzz’s. And it was so worth it.

The hotel did not provide free breakfast but my travel companion, Nina, brought cup noodles with her. We asked the hotel staff if we can get some hot water and they were extremely hospitable. They let us use the breakfast area, provided us with hot water and drinking water.

After brunch, we headed to the airport. The hotel had an airport shuttle every 30 minutes and it was very convenient. The airport was less than 10 minutes away from the hotel and we were promptly dropped off. The shuttle was first come, first serve, so come early.

The check-in line was relatively long but moved quickly. And the security line was really fast, like 5 minutes fast. I didn’t think it was going to be so quick so that gave me more time in the lounge. I have the Priority Pass so I was able to use one of the lounge and relax before the flight.

10 minutes before the boarding time, Nina and I moved to the gate. The agents made 3 lines and had the passengers line up according to their boarding pass. I believe they were done by seats (window first, middle seat second, and aisle last) to make the boarding process faster. Personally, I couldn’t tell if the seating went faster. One downside of the lines was that friends and family couldn’t wait in line together since they were separated by seats.

The flight was short and uneventful. The airline provided drinks and snack. One tip I can give you for the flight is to make sure to get the left window seat to get a great view of the Andes Mountain. The snowy tops of the Andes is a sight you don’t want to miss.

View from my left side window

Cusco airport is small. Once you are at the baggage claim, you will see all the tourism booth and some taxi drivers holding signage. Some people were starting to feel the altitude sickness and luckily, the tourism booths were giving away coca tea, leaves, and candy. I took pills 12 hours before landing in Cusco so I didn’t feel any different.

From the airport, we headed to our tour agency, Fabian Tour. It was about 20 minutes from the aiport to the heart of Cusco, where Fabian Tour was located. It was right next to Plaza Mayor del Cusco, very easy to find. It was also right next to Inca Rail’s office, in case you wanted to book your trip to Machu Picchu separately. We wanted to book 3 tours with them: Rainbow Mountain/Vinicunca, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, and Humantay Lake. However, Fabian recommended that we only book two tours for now and see if have enough energy to do three. So we booked the first two: Rainbow Mountain/Vinicunca (45 sol) and Sacred Valley + Machu Picchu ($189)

After booking our tour, we checked into my acommodation, Danna Inn. It was about 10-15 minute walk from the Plaza but our tours included pick ups so we were ok with being a bit far from the Plaza. However, the Plaza is on a slight hill and Danna Inn is on the lower end so getting to the Plaza required a bit of a hike.

The room itself wasn’t too big for a triple. We couldn’t all have our luggage open at the same time. But luckily, the beds were a nice size so we made it work. The window was facing the street but the noise level wasn’t too bad.

We got a triple at Danna Inn

Also, Cusco was very cold compared to Lima. Asked for a radiator to heat up the room but it was still very cold. I was glad I brought extra thick pajamas. We left the radiator running and headed out to grab dinner. We made reservation at Chicha and since we had some time before our reservation, we decided to roam around the city a bit. Even at night time, Cusco felt safe. Cusco had a lot of alley ways but since it was a tourist town, there were a lot of people in each of the streets.

While walking around, we saw the 12 Angled Stones. There were a lot of people waiting to take pictures with it. It wasn’t blown away by this but it was quite interesting to see how the walls were made to fit so perfectly. That was pretty impressive. This area also had a lot of shops so there were a lot of “We have the best price. Come see!” action happening.

After seeing the area, we headed to Chicha por Gaston Acurio for dinner. Inside the restaurant had a very home-y feel to it, with on side of the wall having a semi-open kitchen. We had made a group reservation but since the other party was going to be late, we ended up being split. 3 of us shared a table and we wanted to do a family style. So we ordered Chicha Snack, Alpaca Curry, and Timpu. Chicha Snack was a sampler plate that had Alpacha anticucho, stuffed potatoes, lomo saltado, and native potatoes with cream. We had to try Timpu just because we didn’t know what it was. The discription was “Cusquenian sancochoado with beef, bacon, lamb ribs, potatoes, and other veggies, all cooked in stock.”

Alpaca meat was good. It had more flavor than I expected. It was more on the dry side but had a good rub. We also go to try some interesting local specialties. I personally really enjoyed the dinner but it was on the more pricer side. But you got to try regional food by Gaston Acurio so it could be worth it for some travelers.

My meal at Chicha

After a great meal, we stopped by Mifarma for more sorochi pills, just in case. I didn’t feel any altitude in Cusco but you can never be too prepared. We had to get up early in the morning so we decided to go to bed early.