The town of Ollantaytambo is considered to be one of the most important towns within the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is the only original Inca town that is still inhabited. Its stone streets preserve the Inca architecture combined with temples and colonial squares. Because it is on the road between Cusco and Machu Picchu, it sees a fair bit of tourists. However, Ollanta, as it is locally called, is more than just a mandatory stop on the way to Machu Picchu. The town has its own charms, and a fair bit of its own Inca archaeological sites.
Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley of the Incas (El Valle Sagrado de los Incas) is one of the major tourist attractions of the Andean region of South America due to its impressive landscape, its pleasant climate, its megalithic cultural evidences and because it offers diverse possibilities for adventure trip (including the Inca Trail).
The Sacred Valley of the Incas extends along the Vilcanota River (the same river that more downstream takes the names of Urubamba or Willcamayu). It covers the area between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
The origin of Ollantaytambo is said to begin the legend of Ollanta, a commoner who was in love with the princess Cusi Coyllor, daughter of the Inca emperor Pachacutec, who opposed their relationship.
Pachacutec decided to punish his daughter by sending her to the house of Virgins. Ollanta tried to kidnap her but did not succeed and was forced to flee. With the passage of time, Ollanta decided to rebel against Pachacutec, causing bloody battles. the Inca emperor emerged victorious, but for his valor, decided to forgive the commoner.
How to Get to Ollantaytambo from Cusco
Vans bound for Ollantaytambo leave from a small terminal located on Calle Pavitos, three blocks due west from Avenida El Sol, down the road just a few meters up from Hostal Margarita.
The trip cost 15 Soles (around $4.50 US), and lasted 2 hours. The van does not leave until full, so if you travel with a large backpack, the trip may be rather uncomfortable.
The road through the Sacred Valley of the Incas is scenic and picture-perfect on every bend. Just before reaching Ollantaytambo, you will pass through the town of Urubamba. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Urubamba, so I decided to head straight to Ollantaytambo.
Ollantaytambo is located at the elevation of 2,700 meters above sea level, meaning it is some 700 meters lower than Cusco, so if Cusco was giving you hard time with altitude sickness, Ollantaytambo should offer a bit of relief.
The Rainbow Mountain, locally known as La Montaña de los Siete Colores (The Mountain of Seven Colors), or by its official name of Vinicunca (sometimes spelled Winicunca), is one of the newest attractions in Peru. The mountain however belongs to the people of Pitumarca, who call it the “Cerro Colorado“.
Up until a few years ago, it was under the permanent layer of snow and ice, and nothing made it special or attractive. But as the snow receded, it uncovered the mountainous formation dyed in various shades, product of the complex combination of minerals.
Despite its local name of the Mountain of Seven Colors, according to the information provided by our tour guide, the scientists identified five colors on the slopes and the summit of the Rainbow Mountain – red, purple, green, yellow, and pink – all deposited the base color of the mountain itself.
Had you visited the Rainbow Mountain prior to 2016, you would likely be the only one hiking the high altitude trail to its 5,200 meter above the sea level summit. However because it is located on the way to the imposing Ausangate – the snow-covered mountain with an elevation of 6,384 metres – adventurers who dared to ascend Ausangate in 2016 took photos of Vinicunca which they then shared on the social media, sparking the interest in the mountain. Since then, the popularity of the Rainbow Mountain exploded and now it receives hundreds, if not thousands of visitors a day, making it one of the most visited places in the Cusco region of Peru – along of course with Machu Picchu.
The road to the Rainbow Mountain is along a canyon with narrow passage carved into the steep cliffs of its sides. You have no choice but to trust your bus driver that he knows what he’s doing, with the understanding that if he messes up, you’re dead, but so is he. In other words – he has as much incentive to drive safe as you have the hope he will.
Through the whole ride there and back, I was telling myself that one day I will remember it as something crazy I have once done, and that I’m glad I did not die there, but while I was at it, I was realizing I was riding on the Grim Reaper’s tail the whole time and at any given time there were mere inches separating me from certain death. One wrong move on the driver’s part, and everyone in the bus is dead.
There was not a person on the bus who was not clenching his or her butt cheeks so tightly, you couldn’t jam a sharpened hair up anyone’s ass crack, but it was the ones sitting on the side of the bus facing the canyon who were breathless the most. The wheels on that side of the bus were gliding on the edge of the cliff, and there was a long way down. It constantly felt like you’re better off not knowing just how close you are to the edge, and just how far down it is.
Before the final ascend with the bus, we crossed the canyon over the shadiest looking wood bridge ever. That would have induced grasps for air if we were to walkover it on foot, yet we drove over it with the bus. Each of us gasped when we did it. Damn!
Shortly after the bridge, we stopped at the toll booth where our guide paid for everybody’s entrance and our vehicle drove to the parking area, from where we commenced the hike. There were several other vans used as tour buses parked up there, suggesting a high number of hikers on the trail.
Locals with horses were offering an option to reach the mountain without straining your heart and lungs, and a number of locals including children were stationed along the trail, selling heavily overprices snacks and beverages, including coca tea for altitude sickness. I asked one horseman how many times he ascends the mountain on an average day, he told me that he does it twice – impressive physical fitness in those people.
The trail offers spectacular views along each step. There are mountain peaks in every direction, some tall enough to be permanently under snow cover. In places you notice the glaciers giving way to mountain lakes, which then trickle down as creeks that carve out the canyon.
A number of domesticated llamas and alpacas are encountered along the trail.
The hike itself is rather strenuous, but no part of it is overly dangerous. It starts easy with there being only a slight incline, but it keeps getting steeper the further up you get. If not for the altitude, the trail itself would likely not be such a challenge. But it was the altitude that made everyone daring the trip work for it.
I myself felt like my muscles definitely had what it takes to get up and down the mountain, but the heart and the lungs were getting a heavy work out. The final approach toward the Rainbow slope was the steepest, so ascending that really tested my respiratory system’s strength and endurance. You could see on everyone’s face how hard of a time they were having taking each step further.
Taking frequent breaks was unavoidable. Everybody was taking them. Only the ones who took the easy way by hiring a horse passed by us with ease, but even for them keeping their breath up was not so easy. But for us who were also under physical strain, for us the challenge was real.
It was for these reasons why once we reached the top, we were giving one another hugs and were celebrating together like we’ve just achieved great victory. Because we all did. We won over ourselves. We faced a personal challenge and we pushed through. The feeling of unbelievable achievement is difficult to describe. It has to be experienced. It’s hard to climb the Rainbow Mountain. It’s really hard, but if you fight through it regardless, and keep going even after your body has told you a million times it wants to quit, you’ll experience the feeling of achieving what you did not think you were capable of, and that feeling is incredible.
The access to the Rainbow Mountain itself is prohibited, apparently with the intent to preserve its delicate surface. From the foot of the Rainbow Mountain, one can continue up to the outcrop from where there are the best views of the mountain colored slopes. The top of the outcrop, named Montana Winikunka, is at the elevation of 5,036 meters above the sea level. That is just a little lower than the Mount Everest base camp.
This was the first time in my life to have climbed to the altitude in excess of 5,000 meters and having achieved that felt amazing.
From the Rainbow Mountain, an option exists to detour to the Red Valley, but this was not included in the tour I took. The combination of the two is usually done as a two day tour with a camping stay overnight on the mountain.
What the future holds for the Rainbow Mountain is anyone’s guess, at this stage. The locals have been milking the living hell out of the high popularity that’s exploded over the past couple of years, but on March 16, 2018, a mining concession was made to the territory where the mountain is located. The Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute of Peru handed over mining rights to the Canadian mining company Camino Minerals. I’m glad I got to experience the mountain before heavy machinery rolls in and the are is turned into a mining ground.
With all its ups and downs, he Rainbow Mountain became the best place I visited during my stay in Peru. Unfortunately, it was followed by the worst – the trip to Machu Picchu.
Here’s a short video from the hike and the joys of having reached the top:
Instead of going back to Hostal Margarita where I stayed when I first visited Cusco, I however decided to try out El Viajero Hospedaje, because it was close to the bus terminal. I quickly came to regret the decision.
The room at El Viajero cost 30 Soles, the same as at Hostal Margarita, but to my shock, after an hour of stay, the owner switched off the wifi router, shutting off the internet for me.
When I confronted him about it, he said I’ll only get an hour of internet, and if I want more, I would have to pay for it. I quickly said I’m canceling my stay there and demanded my money back, because before moving in, I had done what I always do with every single place before I pay for a room – I asked whether the rooms come with free wifi internet. Whereas he confirmed I’d get free internet with the room, I agreed to stay there, so now that he was changing the rules after the game has started, I was having none of his crap.
With unshakeable determination I told him I demanded my money back and proceeded to pack up in order to immediately leave. After that, he said he’s gonna turn the internet back on for me, although after a few hours, he turned it off once again.
That sparked another argument from me, until he eventually agreed not to turn it off again.
Booking Tour to Rainbow Mountain
Meanwhile, I went out to find out what it’d cost to book a tour to the Rainbow Mountain. I have never heard of the Rainbow Mountain before (known locally as la Montana de Los Siete Colores – the Mountain of Seven Colors), but it was strongly recommended way back after I had just landed in Peru, and hang out in downtown Lima with Isadora from Brazil.
I went to a few tour operators in Cusco and enquired about the prices for the Rainbow Mountain. While there were some overpriced options, general cost seemed to be in the neighborhood of 60 Soles for the trip, including the 10 Soles entrance fee (Peruvians milk tourists every chance they get, so every time there is a new attraction, they instantly introduce an entrance fee).
Several tour operators advertised what they promoted as a great price for the trip to the Rainbow Mountain at 50 Soles, but that was just a marketing gimmick, because unlike the regular 60 Soles worth tours, the 50 Soles ones did not include the 10 Soles entrance fee so the end cost for the unaware tourist would in the end be the same anyway. It would appear that the deceptive marketing works out well, because in the tour bus I took, all but two people fell for it, thinking they got a better deal.
The Rainbow Mountain tours start early in the mornring. The include pickup from the hotel and I was told to be ready for my pickup at 4:30 am. Whereas the tour would last whole day, what it meant for me was that I would have to leave my room at El Viajero with my backpack, because there was no way I was staying there for another night
I would have preferred to have stayed in a reasonable place where I would have been able to leave my baggage while I’m up on the mountain, but El Viajero simply wasn’t that place, so I had no option but to haul all my crap with me, so I can book me a room elsewhere after I’ve returned from the Rainbow Mountain. Standard check out time in Cusco is ridiculous 10am. The return from the Rainbow Mountain was not expected until 5pm.
As is also pretty standard with tours in Peru, even though I got up at 4am in order to be ready for the pickup at 4:30 as per the instructions I got, the tour bus didn’t show up to pick me up until 6:30am. I would have gotten 2 hours more sleep, had they been up front with me that nobody’s gonna bother picking me up nowhere near on time. After my previous experience booking a tour in Peru, I should have known better.
The Rainbow Mountain tour also included breakfast and lunch. As is almost always the case, each time the tour comes with a meal included, you’d be better off paying less for the tour and not have it included, and either bring your own sustenance with you, or pay for your own food along the way.
The included food is in a restaurant that pays the best commission, and it’s mass produced to maximize profit. I was told it would be a buffet style service, but all there was for the breakfast buffet were a few baked breads with butter and jam, plus a cup of tea. The latter was the only thing I used, as pure carbohydrates with no nutritious value of the rest did not attract me at all. Luckily, as far as the tea was involved, the restaurant did provide coca leaves, which are known for being beneficial when braving high altitude, and give the drinker a bit of an energy boost.
The lunch, which was served in the same restaurant on the way back from the mountain, was not a big win either. A tray of rice, a tray of a bit of chicken, a plate of lettuce and a pot of soup were provided, but there was so little of each, by the time one half of the bus filled up their bowls with soup, there was none left, and likewise, with the exception of rice of which there seemed to be enough, only the first ones at the tray of chicken got a reasonable portion.
Basically, for my breakfast buffet I got a cup of coca tea, and for my lunch buffet I got a scrap of chicken with a small side of veggies and that was it. The jugs of juice that accompanied the lunch were filled with some syrup water loaded with sugar.
Other than that, the trip to the Rainbow Mountain itself was amazing. For me, it counted as the best experience I have had in Peru, mostly because it was the first time I climbed to over 5,000 meters above the sea level and even though it was tough on my body, I pushed myself and battled through the low oxygen environment and did it. The feeling of accomplishment was amazing, as were the views of the spectacular mountainous scenery.
Just as Isadora strongly recommended a trip to the Rainbow Mountain to me, I also strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Peru. It’s a high altitude hike so it’s not a walk through a park, but if you push through and reach the top, the reward will be very much worth it.
I commenced what was to be the 22 hours long bus ride from Cusco to Lima on Friday at 1:30pm. The checkout at Margarita Hostel was at 10am, which I thought was really aggressive, but found out that it’s a common checkout hour for the majority of hotels and hostels in Cuzco.
To avoid incurring additional charges I checked out at 10am, and headed down to the bus terminal. Since I had a few hours until the departure of my bus, I popped into one of the nearby restaurants where I ordered “almuerzo” (lunch menu). I picked a table close to a power outlet on the wall, and plugged my laptop in it, thinking I would spend the time I have until the bus arrives by doing some work on the computer.
To my surprise, the waitress demanded that since I use their power outlet, that I pay for the power usage on top of the food I ordered. I was ready to leave when she said that, but after she clarified that it would be just a Sol more, I said what the heck, and agreed to give her the damned Sol for the power I’d use.
The Civa bus left on time, but it was full to the last seat. I had a chubby guy sitting next to me (there are a lot of overweight people in Peru as their diet is rich in carbohydrates), who had foul odor to him and snored a lot. While I could not have done much about his odor, I did not put up with his snoring and each time he disturbed me with it, I disturbed him by poking him to interrupt his snore.
The beginning of the ride, at least until the night fell on the country and I could not see much anymore, was through the mountainous terrain of the Peruvian Alps, which were just spectacular. The progress was slow, as we were slowly gliding down winding road into the valleys, before climbing up equally winding road up on hills, to do it over and over again. It was one huge canyon after another and driving through them was as scenic as it gets.
That explained why the bus ride would last the predicted 22 hours, because you truly can’t pickup much speed on those steeply inclined roads full of sharp turns. Having secured a front row seat right above the driver, I had the panoramic views of the country we were driving through. Unfortunately, pictures taken through the tinted windows during a very bumpy ride are doomed to lack in the overall attractiveness no matter what.
Having to spend 22 hours on the overcrowded bus was however no fun at all. I got no sleep and very little rest. Luckily, 5 hours before the projected end of the trip, when we stopped in Ica and unloaded some of the passengers, two pretty Venezuelan girls took the seats across the isle from me, so I spend the rest of the journey chatting with them.
That made the rest of the trip more enjoyable and pass faster, however the projected 22 hours journey ended up being 23,5 hours long, because of heavy traffic causing jams across much of Lima. It’s never fun when you’re stuck in a confined place for 20+ hours and then your transport barely moves because the traffic is so congested, it can’t move.
I knew my friend from Lima was waiting for me at the bus station, so realizing that not only will I not arrive in time, but I would be an hour or more late, was only adding to the anxiety. So when I finally did arrive, after almost the entire 24 hours on the bus, getting off that thing and giving a real life bear hug to my internet acquaintance felt amazing.
Every September 14, the El Señor de Huanca (The Lord of Huanca) festival is celebrated in Cusco, Peru. In 2018, September 14 fell on a Friday, which was just the day when I was leaving Cusco for a weekend in Lima after spending just a day there. As I reached the bus terminal on foot, I came across groups of dancers dressed up in costumes, accompanied by marching bands, who caught my interest so I paused for a few minutes to snap some pics and videos of them.
Characterized by a pilgrimage of devotees from Cusco and other parts of Peru, and even from different countries including Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile, their primary goal during the El Señor de Huanca festival is to go to the Sanctuary of Huanca to receive blessings.
The sanctuary of the Lord of Huanca is located at 3,100 meters above the sea level in the foothills of the Pachatusan mountain in the district of San Salvador, province of Calca in the department of Cusco. I had my bus ticket booked for the day, so I did not participate past watching the promenade in front of the terminal.
The most devout do the pilgrimage to the sacred sanctuary on foot – a feast that takes around 6 hours, according to what I was told. Estimated 30,000 pilgrims make their way to the area each year.
Even though I haven’t been there, I understand that the Sanctuary of Huanca contains the stone painted with the motive a Christ overwhelmed by the lashes – the Lord of Huanca.
Origins of Faith in Huanca
There are two main stories of how devotion to the image of stone began.
The first story dates back to 1675. Diego, an Indian tired of the mistreatment by the Spaniards, escaped to Huanca and prayed all day so they would not find him. Then the image of the bloody Christ would appear before him. Amazed by the miracle, Diego sent a painter to that precise place to reproduce what he had seen. Where the stone was painted, a chapel was built that would later become the sanctuary.
The other version speaks of a Bolivian named Don Pedro Valero, who met a foreign doctor who, miraculously, saved him by giving him a water treatment. In return, the doctor, who responded to the name of Enmanuel, only asked Valero to visit him at his home in Huanca. Great was his surprise when, in 1778, he arrived at the place and the settlers told him that in that town there was nothing, just an abandoned chapel. Terco went to the designated place and found a stone painted with a whipped Jesus Christ. The incredible thing was that the face of the son of God was the same as the person who had healed him.
Here’s the video of the devotees dressed in costumes celebrating El Señor de Huanca with a dance in the street in front of the bus terminal in Cusco:
After settling at Margarita Hostel on Avenida El Sol in Cusco, I went out to explore the city. Cusco is the most popular city in Peru as far as the number of tourists is involved, and notwithstanding the proximity to Machu Picchu, after a short period of time touring the city alone on foot, I was amazed by the fusion of the Andean and Spanish cultures in the middle of beautiful landscapes, with the abundance of historical buildings often built on bases and walls of ancient palaces and temples of the Inca Empire that seemed to be greeting me after every corner I took.
This is not surprising, as Cusco was the hegemonic center and the capital of the Inca Empire (locally known as Tahuantinsuyo), and the most important urban center of ancient Peru at the time.
Brief History of Cusco
The city, founded by the Inca Manco Cápac, was made up of large palaces, temples and courthouses, with streets and squares, surrounded by extensive areas for agriculture, crafts and pre-industrial production, reaching its greatest development during the reign of the Inca Pachacutec in the fifteenth century.
When the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire in 1534, they founded and built the Spanish city on Inca enclosures and buildings, which can still be seen.
Despite the passage of time, Cusco remains an attractive city for tourism and maintains a remarkable monumental ensemble and the coherence of its urban layout; its streets interspersed with the same magnetism, colonial constructions and Inca walls, churches and pagan temples, archaeological sites and rural haciendas.
Altitude of Cusco
Located in the Peruvian Andes at 3,400 meters above the sea level, which albeit being a few hundred meters below that of Puno, Cuzco is still at a high enough elevation to warrant caution and take the possibility of altitude sickness seriously. I felt partially acclimatized, having lived a week in Arequipa and three days in Puno.
Still, as I walked the sloped streets of Cusco, I was continuously reminded by the shortness of breath that the elevation I’m in is high and I need to be at minimum aware of it, if not taking active steps to alleviate its effects. Luckily, the occasional shortness of breath was the only effect of high altitude I have experienced, with other common symptoms, like the headache, overproduction of phlegm in the throat and nose, or even fever like symptoms completely avoiding me.
Touring Cusco’s Downtown Core
The Historical Center of Cusco has been continuously inhabited since before 1,400. A royal cedula of July 1540 refers to Cusco as “the very distinguished, very remarkable, loyal and very faithful City of Cusco, the main city and head of the kingdoms of Peru“.
From the records by some chroniclers, and from the latest satellite images, it is known that the first urban layout of the city had the shape of a puma.
The narrow cobbled streets, churches, old neighborhoods and colonial houses, as well as several archaeological monuments, are a sample of a mestizo culture that has survived time, invasions and natural disasters, and remains alive despite the passage of the centuries.
The Historic Center of Cusco, despite many historical events and natural disasters which occurred, is in an amazing state of preservation; and thanks to that, the City of Cusco was declared Cultural Patrimony of the Nation in 1983; the same year it would be declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Cusco Massage Services
With Cuzco being as popular as it is with tourists, and with Avenida El Sol connecting directly to Plaza de Armas, it is expectedly replete with various travel agencies looking to score tourists’ dollars for themselves. The good thing about that is that they are a bountiful source of maps of Cuzco for those who don’t have MAPS.ME open source maps app on their smartphones.
As a backup, I always have the off-line map of the country I’m in downloaded on my phone, but where there is an opportunity to pickup a printout of a map, I do so, so as not to drain the phone’s battery by constantly looking at its screen.
Seeing as Plaza de Armas is just a short walk up Avenida El Sol from where my hostel was, I took the walk to snap a few pictures of the downtown square. The moment I reached Plaza de Armas, I was jumped by a swarm of women offering me massage services.
I was quoted prices around 50 Soles per hour, which albeit touted as a great price, is indeed no so great for anyone who’s had a massage in Asia.
At the time of my visit, 50 Soles equaled a little more than $15 US. You can get a 1 hour full body Thai massage for $5 in Thailand, 1 hour of full body Khmer massage for $4 in Cambodia, or 1 hour of full body general massage for $3 in the Philippines, and if that’s also your thing (such as it is mine), Asian girls are fit and attractive, whereas Peruvian women are overweight and generally lack in the overall corporal attraction level quite a bit.
So for me, getting an hour long massage for $15 US from a woman who’s at best a 3 or 4 was a no go. I’ll save getting massages for where they cost $5 or less and are given by girls who are a solid 8 or 9. I flirted with some of the girls offering massages in Cusco, but never ended up getting one.
Convent of Santo Domingo
I started my tour of downtown Cusco by visiting El Convento de Santo Domingo, because it was located directly on the opposite side of Avenida El Sol from Hostal Margarita. The convent of Santo Domingo is built on the foundations of the Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun).
Plaza de Armas
Cusco’s main square Plaza de Armas occupies the same place as the Plaza Huacaypata (Quechua for voice, moan or lament) that was drawn by Manco Cápac when he founded the city of Cusco in the 12th century. It was the place where the Inti Raymi – a religious ceremony in honor of the Son god – was celebrated in the time of the Incas.
From the arrival of the Spaniards it was somewhat diminished in its dimensions by the perimetric constructions, which adorn the square to this day, like the Cathedral, the Church of the Company, the portals, arcades and large houses. Today, the houses surrounding Plaza de Armas are homes to jewelers, travel agencies, tourist restaurants, massage parlors and other establishments catering primarily to foreigners. Strangely, there is no McDonald’s, KFC, Starbacks or the such at Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.
Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera, better known as Tupac Amaru II, the leader of a large Andean uprising against the Spanish, was executed at Plaza de Armas on May 18, 1781.
Cathedral of Cusco
The Cathedral of Cusco is a catholic temple built on what was the royal palace of the Inca Viracocha (Huiracocha). It was built with blocks extracted from an Inca site very close to Sacsayhuaman. Construction began in 1559 and was completed almost a century later.
Church of the Company of Jesus
Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús is a colonial Jesuit Temple, built on the Royal Amarucancha Palace of Huayna Cápac in 1,571. It is said to be surrounded by labyrinths and secret passages, in which Notable characters of the conquest and Spanish colony were buried.
The Convent of La Merced
The building of El Convento de la Merced looks very much like El Convento de Santo Domingo (see above). Its almost rustic walls contrast very well with its beautiful columns and its baroque bell tower.
In the basements of the church are said to rest the remains of the Spanish conquistadors Diego de Almagro, Almagro El Mozo, and Gonzalo Pizarro.
San Pedro Market
From Plaza de Armas I walked on to Plaza de San Francisco, and from there along Calle Santa Clara to San Pedro market. The vendors sell fruits, dried nuts, health care products, and other items commonly found at markets in South America, though being so centrally located in Cuzco, the great part of the market was dedicated to selling overpriced handicrafts to unaware tourists.
As a matter of fact, pretty much everything was heavily overpriced in the market. Fruit availability was decent, but the prices excessive. However one stall, which sold dried fruits and nuts was worth it for me due to the availability of Brazil Nuts, Almonds and dried Figs. The prices weren’t the greatest, but I was more happy with the ability to buy healthy, non-perishables than anything else, so I adequately resupplied.
Opposite San Pedro market is Orion supermarket, where local mineral water in 2 liter bottles was sold for only 2.40 Soles. That was a great price in the country where a 2 liter bottle of ozone treated tap water normally costs 5 Soles (yes, Peru is expensive). So in spite of being generally pricey, this quality mineral water, which was also highly alkaline (PH 8.5) was available in Cuzco at a better price than treated tap water without any nutritious value in the rest of the country.
Overall, my introduction to Cuzco was OK. I got the feel of the city, got to know its vibe, got myself oriented in it pretty well, got to know where to find reasonably priced accommodation and where to purchase essentials for survival. But my initial trip to Cusco was not meant to last.
Upon my early morning arrival in Cuzco, I took advantage of a temporary promotion for return trips to Lima by the bus company Civa, who sold the return tickets for 90 Soles. Having chatted on the internet since arriving in Peru with a girl from Lima, and having arranged an opportunity to rent a room in an apartment owned by a Spanish woman living in Peru for 50 Soles a night, I combined all three to spend a weekend in Lima and return to Cuzco afterward to begin my trips to the sites of interest during weekdays, and not during overcrowded weekends.
There was more to explore in downtown Cusco, but I chose to return to the room in Margarita Hostel to spend the night, after which I was scheduled to take the 22 hours long bus ride back to Lima.
Scheduled to leave Puno at 10pm, I had to withstand 4 hours of bone-chilling nighttime after the sun set at 6pm, before I got on the bus. Luckily, I had a pretty good seat, but was unfortunate to have a snorer right behind me. He made everything worse when he took his shoes off and his stinky socks turned the entire couch into a gas chamber for the rest of the trip.
We arrived in Cusco at 5am. The 7 hour journey was nothing fun, but was not that bad. Cusco, being also at high elevation, is likewise cold at night, but nowhere near Puno cold. I waited at the bus terminal until 6am, so I could walk the streets in search of a hostel during daylight.
A friend from Lima recommended me to check out Pariwana Hostel, so I looked it up on a map and headed there on foot. It took me about 30 minutes to cover the distance from the bus terminal to the downtown area, only to find out that Pariwana is unreasonably expensive for my taste, with beds in dorms shared among 12 people costing 35 Soles (around $10 US), while a room with a matrimonial bed cost 185 Soles (around $56 US) per night.
Similar to Miraflores in Lima, these are the type of prices I’d expect to see in Western Europe, not in South America. I turned on my heel and headed back down the streets in search of something more economical.
Eventually I booked a room in Hostel Margarita located on Avenida El Sol, which is the avenue leading all the way up to Plaza de Armas. At a cost of 30 Soles per night I was happy with the room, even though it did not have a private bathroom and the shared bathroom had no doors, so anyone could walk in on your showering at any time, and there was no toilet paper at all provided for use by the guests.
The hostel was also being repainted from the outside, so there was a lot of construction site type noise, but that only lasted during the day. At night, the hostel was reasonably quiet and I was able to get much needed sleep. I also liked that after truly freezing nights in Puno, the night in Cuzco, albeit still cold, was significantly less cold so I did not spend the entirety of it shivering.