Category Archives: Cusco

Cusco hotel review: Siete Ventanas

When we returned to Cusco from our five-day hike through the mountains, there was no way we could stay in a hostel. We needed the comforts of a hotel,  private bathrooms and some personal space. So after a long day of walking door-to-door to pretty much every hotel in Cusco, we found Siete Ventanas.

Apparently, Siete Ventanas is a newer hotel not too far from the San Blas neighborhood and a five-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. Overall, I really liked the hotel. The building is relatively new and clean, with a nice courtyard-style lobby. Our room, although it had a slightly dysfunctional toilet, was spacious and had a great view of Cusco. And it had cable TV.

And even though there was kind of a construction site down the street, we didn’t have to suffer through any crazy construction racket like we did in Paris last year.

Not to mention, we got a pretty good deal on the room rate thanks to Adrian’s negotiating skills. So I would definitely recommend giving Siete Ventanas a try!

Souvenir shopping in Cusco – my top 5

Cusco was our first stop on the trip, so even though there was SOOOO much I wanted to buy, I figured I should save a little money & room in my luggage for our stops in Arequipa and Lima. Well, I think I’d recommend doing most of your souvenir shopping in Cusco after all. Especially if you’re looking for some cool Inca-inspired or indigenous Andean artifacts.

That being said, here are my top 5 souvenirs from Cusco:

  1. My 20-lb antique iron
  2. A tapestry featuring various animals (similar to some of the ones hanging above)
  3. A toy alpaca, complete with real baby alpaca fur
  4. Alpaca hat & gloves (and leg warmers) – I LOVE these
  5. My llama duffel bag
I'm loco for llamas

Cusco: Museo Inka, San Blas & Chicha

Standing by the famous 12-sided stone....at least I think this is the one...

Our first tourist stop on Monday was the Museo Inka. As promised, the museum itself is nothing fancy but there was some good info about the various indigenous cultures of Peru. It was cool to learn about all the cultures that came before the Inca even:

  • The Paraca tribe made beautiful woven funeral cloths
  • The Pukara would include feline faces on their pottery and art
  • The Mochika had 11 different colors they used in painting pottery
  • The Nazca, while famous for their lines, also made really beautiful pottery with many colors and in lots of animal forms, even mythical creatures
  • The Wari tribe, which took over Cusco for awhile, also included feline faces in their art, complete with colorful eyes
  • Of course the highlight for me was seeing the Inca mummies, still very well intact

It was interesting to finally see cats represented. Most ancient cultures seem to have recognized something spiritual or significant in felines, but I hadn’t heard or seen too much of that in Peru until now. There are definitely a lot of dogs around town, but barely any cats.

After lunch, we went up by the San Blas neighborhood to see the Iglesia de San Blas. It was a very simple church, but known for its intricately carved wooden pulpit, complete with human skull! We also took advantage of San Blas’ unique shops and galleries to do some shopping. Continuing our souvenir shopping closer to Plaza de Armas, I officially topped myself in buying the most ridiculous souvenir ever by spending too much money on an antique iron that weighs probably 20 lbs. I also finally got a photo with a little lamb!

Antique plancha from Cusco
Me and a baby lamb

That night, we had dinner at Chicha, a restaurant of famed chef Gaston Acurio. Considering all the hype, the rest of the group was disappointed in the food. I felt it was simple but good. The tamales appetizer and pumpkin ravioli I ordered were pretty much what I expected so overall I was happy with the dinner, although it didn’t necessarily blow my mind. I’ll admit that the ambiance definitely didn’t compare to Fallen Angel.

Back in Cusco: La Catedral, Mercado San Pedro & Qorikancha

View of Cusco from our new hotel, Siete Ventanas

Now back in Cusco, we attempted to actually see the sights. We got off to a slow start though, because our first stop, the Inca Museum, was closed. So we walked around town and ended up at the Chocolate Museum. Which is really a coffee shop with some info about cacao in Peru and a few souvenirs. But admission is free, so it wasn’t a bad stop. I did actually learn a little about cocoa production and history. I also learned that Poland is one of the biggest consumers of chocolate (of course not compared to the US). And of course we bought some souvenirs. There was a complimentary cup of really cool tea they gave us that tasted like chocolate even though it was tea, so I bought a bag of that.

Santa Clara church…closed

Then we walked past the church and convent of Santa Clara, which sounds really cool with mirrors covering the interior, but it’s barely ever open and indeed was closed now.

So we did what we do best – shopping – at the Mercado San Pedro. And I finally got to eat choclo! Continue reading Back in Cusco: La Catedral, Mercado San Pedro & Qorikancha

Hostel Review: Ecopackers

In Cusco, we stayed at Ecopackers Hostel. Despite my gypsy aspirations, I actually haven’t stayed in many hostels. Actually, I don’t really remember ever staying in one before this trip. Maybe during a high school Europe trip. Anyways, I prefer to aspire for the Gypset lifestyle. But back to Ecopackers…

The hostel is really nice, actually. There’s an open courtyard that’s clean, colorful and relaxing. It includes a hammock and three computer stations with internet access. There’s also a movie room which I didn’t check out. And there are two adorable kittens roaming the hostel – one is grey and the other is this tiny furball of a black kitten with blue eyes. It’s so cute, and even smaller than Othello was when I adopted him.

Hostel courtyard
How cute is this kitten??

We reserved a room for the four of us, and ended up getting a six-person room all to ourselves, which was nice. Unfortunately, private bathrooms were not included in the room. So showering in a little box was not my favorite thing. Especially when I was showering at night and the lights, which are on a timer, kept going off. Showering in a tight space in the dark = not cool.

But overall, I really liked the hostel. It was clean, the staff was friendly, it had kittens and they let us leave our bags there while we went on our five-day hike up in the mountains. I would definitely recommend Ecopackers for your Cusco stay!

Relaxing on the hammock. Ok, I admit it, this photo is staged.
Kittens!
One last kitten photo...I couldn't help myself

Raining guinea pigs & llamas

Today was a typical day of shenanigans.

First, we went by Q’ente to meet our tour guide for the five-day hike towards Machu Picchu. I think he was mildly alarmed at how ill-prepared we were for the hike.

Pretty doorway on our way to the panaderia

Then, we went to a nearby panaderia in the San Blas neighborhood run by monks (or maybe nuns baked the bread, I forget exactly) to stuff our faces with empanadas and pastries.

Next up, we went by Hotel Marqueses to confirm our reservation. Of course, they messed it up, so the next several hours were spent walking all over Cusco, looking for another hotel for when we return from the hike. We literally just walked around from one hotel to another, asking for availability, rates and to see a sample room. At one point it started raining cats and dogs — or guinea pigs and llamas — so Daniela abandoned the search while we continued on. At least we got to see a lot of the city since we pretty much walked from one end to the other. And in the end we found a decent hotel that gave us a good discount. But I was truly devastated that things didn’t work out with Hotel Marqueses, because it looked like such a beautiful hotel!

The view of Cusco from a random hotel where we tried to get a room, but of course they didn't have anything available!

After walking around Cusco for hours, Ben had the brilliant idea to precede our five-day hike with a hike up to see the Big White Jesus statue overlooking the city. And for some reason, I agreed to go even though I was wearing a skirt and my brown boots – hardly appropriate hiking apparel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the very top because 90% of the way up, the stone steps turn into a narrow, steep dirt path. It was just not gonna happen. So close, yet so far away. So Ben and Adrian continued without me — but with the random dog that accompanied us literally the entire way and back.

The boys and their guide dog
A llama we saw in the mountains during our mini-hike

Speaking of dogs, I feel like all the dogs in Cusco (Peru?) are “stray” dogs…maybe not stray, but street dogs I guess. I can’t decide if it’s sad or good that they roam around on their own. They’re kind of on their own, but then again they have all the freedom to go where they want and probably know the city and nearby mountains pretty well. Plus, they have each other to hang out with. So who knows which lifestyle a dog prefers. And yes, I just wrote all that philosophizing about the lives of dogs.

At the Plaza de Armas

Anyways… after our mini-hike we grabbed dinner at the Plaza de Armas. I had Aji de Gallina, which is chicken in a yellow cheesy sauce and is apparently a traditional Peruvian dish. It was really good, but let me warn you…do not eat this unless you are near a bathroom! (TMI?)

Another shot of Plaza de Armas