Machu Picchu - Cusco and Environs

Three days in this brilliantly historic part of Peru, including the requisite visit to Machu Picchu.

Hostal Incawasi

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by travellingdave on January 11, 2007

Hostal Inkawasi was recommended to me by my trusted Lonely Planet guide, which seems to have a different idea about what is “good” than I do.

This small hostal (budget hotel, not a youth hostel) sits at a prime location opposite the Plaza de Armas in central Cusco. It is convenient to all of Cusco’s major sights and there are dozens of great shops and restaurants nearby.

I arrived to be greeted by a young teenager, perhaps 14, who checked me in and told me I could pay later on, as he wasn’t allowed to handle money. I was charged $15 per night for a private room on the second floor of this small hotel. The hotel is in decent shape, but its use is visible through some significant wear and tear here and there. The one thing the hotel is, is DARK. There is almost no lighting whatsoever, which adds a creepy feel to the place – most women will not feel comfortable here at all (unless they are very, very tough). Single women travelers are probably okay to stay here, just make sure you lock your doors securely.

I was shown into my room, which was of decent size and clean enough. The carpets and walls showed some signs of dirt and wear and tear, but nothing at all worth complaining about. The beds were clean, but very uncomfortable, and felt like sleeping on straw. I was suffering from severe altitude sickness, though, so I collapsed on the bed without cause or concern, and I slept very well. The room had a small alcove sunken into the wall, with a shelf and “safety deposit box.” There was also a small round table and a chair, although the table was a bit too high to sit at and write at. The room did not have a television, so watching my favorite shows was out of the question. The bathroom was clean, but there was a lingering smell of sulphur or sewage in the air, probably just the city’s septic system. I closed the door to lessen its offensive odor.

The room was bitterly cold, though, as I visited Cusco in the dead of winter (July). There were no space heaters available, so I just bundled up, but it still was brisk. It is probably much more liveable in the summer months. There was no hot water at all, not even through an electric shower head, so a shower was out of the question. The water was near-freezing, probably around 3 degrees Celsius.

There was no breakfast or hot beverages included at this hotel, just the room. It is a decent location for a group of backpackers who want a cheap place to sleep without spending too much money, as long as you aren’t planning on spending too much time in the rooms. During the summer months, I think this hotel would be much more feasible for everyone.

For the price and location, though, you cannot do much better.
Inca Wasi Hotel
Portal De Panes Nº 147
+51 84 22-3992

Hotel Cusco Plaza II

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by travellingdave on January 11, 2007

Hotel Cusco Plaza II is one of Cusco’s best deals. This little-known hotel is located a couple blocks down the road from the Plaza de Armas, easily accessible by foot.

I originally found it through a hotel tout, who probably did overcharge me – but I did not mind, as the $30 I paid for the room was well worth it. The tout led me over to the hotel and negotiated the $30 with the hotel, which provided me with a large room with two double beds, a toasty warm space heater for the cold July evening, a powerful shower with hot water, cable television to catch up with news back home, very comfortable, modern bedding, and free Internet use in the lobby.

The check-in staff were speedy and kind, and made me feel at home as a foreigner. They did not take advantage of me or charge me any mysterious additional fees, and were helpful in scheduling a wake-up call for me. They were very knowledgeable of the area and willing to help out with directions and recommendations.

The room was very cozy and I enjoyed not freezing like I had the previous night at my other hotel. It was a great place to rest up and relax after the arduous climbing around Machu Picchu that day. In the morning, I awoke to a very good breakfast courtesy of the hotel, which featured eggs, some hot dishes, a selection of fresh juices, breads, and of course coffee and mate de coca. The breakfast area in the courtyard was quite nice, and I enjoyed my morning there very much.

The hotel had oxygen tanks available for guests who were suffering from severe soroche (altitude sickness), but I did not use this so I am not sure if there is a fee for that. Hotel prices included taxes, and U.S. dollars are accepted at a fair exchange. Credit cards were not accepted here, though.

I would recommend this hotel for budget travelers, couples, and families with young children. It’s an all-around good hotel, perhaps most comparable to a Days Inn. Weekly prices can be negotiated for those wanting to stay in the area a while.

Visit them online at:
Hotel Cusco Plaza II
Calle Saphy 486
+51 84 263-000

Mama Amerika

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by travellingdave on January 11, 2007

Mama Amerika is a great little restaurant overlooking the beautiful Plaza de Armas in central Cusco. I was skeptical upon walking into this modest restaurant that the food would be any good, and that it would not be some Americanized rip-off-the-tourist waste of time. I was totally wrong on both counts! The food is wonderful and the service is even better.

The waiters here don’t patronize you like in some other restaurants, where they will literally be milking for a tip the entire evening. Instead, they offer some great smiles, suggestions on food, and don’t even attempt to rip anyone off. The food is very inexpensive, very high quality, and the chefs and waiters pride themselves on serving you such delicious food at such amazingly low prices. The entrées at this restaurant range from around $2 to $5. For these penny-pinching prices, the chefs whip up some of the most delicious, gourmet food you’ll ever have.

Visibly suffering from soroche, or altitude sickness, my waiter promptly brought me a glass of hot mate de coca (coca leaf tea), which eased my suffering immensely. The tea was served in a nice tall glass, lightly sweetened to bring out the almost shredded-wheat taste of the tea. It was a great way to begin my meal.

Immediately after the tea, the waiter brought out a free pisco sour, a local brandy drink with egg and sugar, much like an Italian zabaglione. This was offered to me free of charge, and was possibly the best drink I had ever had. I would have liked it even better after my meal, though, as a dessert drink.

To begin, I ordered a plate of appetizers – ham and cheese stuffed bread sticks (much like fried pizza dough), served with a huge bowl of guacamole, for $2. This would cost around five times that price in the USA, for the sheer amount of food served. The sticks were succulent and a great accompaniment with the zesty guacamole.

My main course was a filet of alpaca (similar to a llama) stuffed in cordon blue style with ham and cheese, covered with a rich mushroom gravy. In English, this dish would be something around Alpaca Cordon Blue a la King. The meal was $6, and was served with a side of hand-cut thick French fries, and a small ring of rice, garnished with finely chopped vegetables. Simply one of the best meals I have ever tasted, and at a price that will make you want to beg to give them more.

The feature that tops off the whole experience is the location, overlooking the Plaza de Armas. People-watching while sitting in such prime seats should cost a couple twenties, but barely scratches the $10 mark.
Mama Amerika
Portal Belén 115

Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by travellingdave on January 11, 2007

The Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge is both a blessing and a curse. For weary travelers who have not packed a lunch, waking up at the deathly hour of 4am to catch the train to the ruins, it’s the most feasible (and only) option for food while atop the mountain. One could run down to Aguas Calientes, but this would only add to your expense and time – time devoted to sightseeing at this amazing wonder of the modern world. The downside is the price – at around $23 for the lunch buffet, it’s hardly worth the plate it’s served on for budget travelers who just want a quick meal with no frills.

The buffet features elegant, gourmet dishes that highlight the incredible variety of cuisine in Peru. The waitresses are kind and courteous (I would be too if you gave me $23), and live music by some of Peru’s most talented musicians fill the air with an exotic ambience like no where else to be found. I was instantly swept away to a land far away (although I already was in one), and I immediately didn’t care about the high price of the meal, as the experience was awe-inspiring. The view is likewise spectacular, perched on top of Machu Picchu Mountain, within steps from the ancient site.

Drinks are (thankfully) included in the steep price of the buffet, including coke, sprite, and other soft drinks. Alcohol is not included, and is charged at incredibly high rates.

The buffet’s highlights when I were there were the roast suckling pig, which was of very high quality, and the fresh, sour-but-not-too-sour ceviche, which consisted of seafood marinated in a tangy lime juice-cilantro mix. To the non-adventurous, you will have a hard time eating here. The dishes are complex, use many atypical ingredients and some would find many of the dishes unappealing. A lot of the meats are quite rare, which may be a problem for some eaters. Muslims and Jews will be unable to eat much of the food, as a lot of it is pork and shellfish-based. Out of the entire buffet line, I could name only a few dishes. It was almost completely new to me, but very delicious.

Try the lightly floured rolls with your meal – they are simply delicious, and serve to soak up a lot of the liquid that the dishes have.

For dessert, treat yourself to a variety of fruit salads and pastries. The choices are endless.

After lunch, relax with a drink in the hotel bar, where you can enjoy complimentary roasted fava beans (very delicious) with your drink order. Beers are around $3.

Visit the Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant online at:

Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge - Machu Picchu
+51 84 984 816 956

Machu Picchu

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by travellingdave on January 12, 2007

What words could even begin to describe such an amazing, awe-inspiring sight as Machu Picchu is? I could mention the cool, crisp, rainforest-like air that mists between low clouds, perched precariously over the mountaintop ruins – but that doesn’t even begin to describe it. I could mention the dizzying experience of being high above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, straddling a mountaintop with your feet with sheer cliffs at every turn, while you try your best not to succumb to vertigo while still wondering if the beautiful sight before you is even real. I could also mention the ruins themselves, a beautiful creation a mere 500 years old but seemingly eternal, with no beginning or end.

Being here at the top of Machu Picchu will make even the most cold-hearted curmudgeon seen-it-all traveler fall to their knees and re-evaluate the existence of God. It’s the kind of place that makes atheists shake at their feet. Being here makes you feel almost as though you aren’t worthy to be here – like it’s reserved for some higher authority, not an unemployed, over-traveled student (in my case) with a spare $20 bill on their hands.

You’ll arrive via one of two ways: The PeruRail train or the Inca Trail. The latter is a five day trek through some difficult terrain, and has long-been noted as one of the must-do’s before you die. For those with less time, less endurance, or who aren’t capable of the trek, PeruRail will happily take $80 from you and transport you from Cusco to the small village of Aguas Calientes, passing through the mystical Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, you’ll know something is different about this place. Hop off the train, buy a poncho for $1 as it will inevitably be raining, and purchase your bus ticket to ascend Machu Picchu. For $10, you will travel in a zig-zag manner up steep switchbacks to the park entrance, where another $20 will leave your hands and allow you entry into the beautiful National Park – one of the World’s finest (if not the finest).

The ruins are strewn across the mountaintop, each section different and unique, highlighting different aspects of the Inca culture. There are several trails and staircases for the visitor to explore, just don’t overexert yourself – you’re at a very high altitude. Take your time to walk slowly, allowing the mist to pass across the ruins, paying close attention for the best time for those requisite photos.

Because access is so limited, you don’t have to worry much about crowds. For those who want to see the ruins from another vantage point, take the steep climb up Huayana Picchu, the huge peak forming the centerpiece of the mountain. This isn't for the faint of heart, and you must sign a waiver in order to climb the steep staircase to the top.

To get some inspiration of your own, visit Machu Picchu online at:
Machu Picchu Inca Archaeological Site
Above The Urubamba Valley
Cusco Region, Peru

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