Into Thin Air – Cuzco Peru

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Plaza de Armas Cuzco Peru

It’s the first stop on Round-the-World #2! So obviously that means no sleep on the plane on the 7-hour flight down.

I land in Lima around midnight and my night begins to look up when I see that the Lima airport is very modern and clean. And it has wireless internet throughout. Score!

This is especially important since I decided not to book a hotel in Lima for tonight. My flight to Cuzco Peru is at 6:00am and I just couldn’t justify spending the money on a hotel for 3 hours or so of sleep.

Not to mention I ran out of time to try to find one.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle).  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

So, I find a corner table in a little café. Then I buy a wireless internet access card, order a glass of wine and spend the next few hours on my laptop updating the website and trying to find hotels in New Zealand. (Really starting to wish I’d found the time for that pre-departure!) 

All in all, it ranks as my best overnight experience in an airport. Though, admittedly, there is not a ton of competition for that title.

My flight to Cuzco leaves right on time and is a quick 50 minutes in the air. 

Cuzco’s thin air

When I get off the plane in Cuzco, the altitude hits me almost immediately.

Cuzco’s altitude is 11,000 feet (compare that to Denver at 5,280). I had actually forgotten about it until I’m walking through the airport and begin to feel my heart beating a little more rapidly than usual. 

Other than that and a slight shortness of breath, it doesn’t bother me too much.

As I exit the tiny Cuzco airport, I’m happy to see the driver from my hotel (the Torre Dorada) holding a sign with my name on it.

He gives me a hearty welcome to Cuzco and cheerfully introduces himself as Oscar, Peggy’s brother. Peggy is the owner of the hotel who I have been e-mailing with over the past two weeks.

Torre Dorada Cuzco Peru
The living room area at Torre Dorada

Oscar asks if I speak Spanish and I say “very little.” He laughs and says, “my English is catastrophic!!” (I swear to God – his words, not mine). Of all the English words he could have learned, he knows “catastrophic?” Hysterical.

Despite the obvious language disparity, Oscar is anxious to converse on the drive to the hotel so I give it my best shot. Hey, if he’s willing to try, so am I.

In the 10 minute drive to the hotel, I manage to ascertain that Peggy is currently in Geneva on vacation. But her sister Rosemarie is waiting for me at the hotel and she speaks very good English (I know this is true since I’ve e-mailed with her as well).

I also learn that Oscar will be my driver for wherever I want to go during my stay. This is especially important since the hotel is a little outside of town.

The Torre Dorada hotel

We arrive at Torre Dorada and I’m happy to see that its #1 rating on Trip Advisor is well-deserved. 

Rosemarie is extremely helpful in booking my train & bus to Machu Picchu for tomorrow. And she also assists with getting me a room in Machu Picchu town for tomorrow night. These are the two things Peggy told me could wait until I arrive since it’s currently low season.

She also offers the use of the hotel’s oxygen tank if the altitude is a problem for me. Now there’s something you don’t usually get at a hotel!

The hotel has 3 floors, each with 4 sleeping rooms with private baths surrounding an open living room area. Rosemarie shows me to my room and, though it’s small, it is extremely clean and nicely decorated. 

Not too shabby for just $40 a night, including breakfast and transportation.

She offers me some coca tea to help with the altitude adjustment which I do accept. I was told not to plan anything strenuous for my first day at this altitude. Just rest and give your body time to adjust. (Actually, according to my guide book, you are supposed to give yourself up to two weeks to fully acclimate before planning any major activities – but honestly, who has that kind of time?) 

So, since I haven’t been to bed yet, I opt to sleep for a few hours before heading into town. After all, it’s still only 7:30am.

Exploring Cuzco

I wake up around 1pm and Oscar drives me into town. Again, the drive is full of the kind of lively conversation only two people who don’t speak the same language can have. You’ve gotta love this guy.

Cathedral of Santo Domingo Cuzco Peru
Cathedral of Santo Domingo

I wander around the Plaza de Armas (Cuzco’s main square) for a while before finding a restaurant with a nice balcony overlooking it for lunch. I’m not bothered by the altitude at all except when I try to climb stairs. 

It is an odd feeling to get winded after a single flight of stairs.

After lunch I resume my wandering around until the pouring rain starts.  January is summer in South America and in Peru this means the rainy season.

Plaza de Armas Cuzco Peru
Plaza de Armas, Cuzco

And as Oscar repeatedly told me on our drives, the weather in Cuzco “es loco.” One minute it’s sunny and the next it’s raining, often both at the same time. I agree Oscar…”es loco” indeed.

So I duck into an Irish Bar (billed on the sign as the highest Irish Bar in the world – I am obviously impressed) off the square.

My plan is to wait out the rain for a while over a Guinness. Unfortunately, the rain has more staying power than I do. So after spending a little time shopping on the square, I call Oscar at the hotel for a ride back.

He’s there to get me in a flash. I figure I should get a good night’s sleep since I have to be in the hotel lobby at 5:30am to drive to the train station. My train to Machu Picchu tomorrow departs at 6:00am sharp!