As gateway to the otherworldly ruins of nearby Machu Picchu, many tourists flock to Cusco. Located in a valley surrounded by the rugged Andes mountains, Cusco is a very delightful ‘albeit touristy’ colonial city characterized by its steep hills and old world architecture. At 11,200 ft above sea level, it is also one of the highest cities in the world. A real tourist mecca, Old Cusco (the tourist zone) has many outdoor cafes, trendy bars, chic boutiques and restaurants. Most of the hotels, guesthouses and restaurants offer coca tea to their guests to help them combat altitude sickness.
Two peculiarities about Cusco – old town is littered with so many places offering cheap massages that for a moment I thought I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Walking around the main plaza, I was constantly pestered by young girls trying to sell me anything from finger warmers to little dolls in addition to trying to recruit me for a massage. I am assuming that the massages were legit, with no extras offered, but then again, I really don’t know! In addition, many people on the street were soliciting tourists to buy cheap cell phones, and I mean muy barrato. I have never experienced something like this in any other city that I have visited in my many years of travel.
I know you’re wondering whether Cusco’s high altitude affected me? Well, after a short flight from Lima, initially I felt a little disoriented, but after a refreshing nap and several cups of coca tea, I was good to go. Did I succumb to the temptation to get a cheap massage? In a word, NO! I did buy some finger warmers though!….