Hot on the Inca Trail
Have you ever had a moment in your life where you were genuinely happy and content with everything; where all your worries/anxieties/problems are a million miles away and you feel so light that you could fly away; where you say to yourself, “God damn, I’m glad to be alive right now.” ?
Sitting on the church steps on a sunny afternoon in Cusco’s plaza de armas was one of those moments for me. The open spaces, clean air, blue skies, cobblestone roads, narrow alleys and rolling hills of Cusco makes it one of my favorite places in the world.
To get there, on the other hand, was one hell of a trek. I rolled into Cusco at the tail end of a 2.5 day dash down the coast of South America. I decided that I needed to get a move on things and got on a bus headed towards Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and the hub of many bus destinations. What followed was a full day of busing, followed by the most miserable overnight trip I’ve ever had (picture fat, smelly girl next to you taking half your seat, windows shuttered closed, having to move my backpack every few hours because of people getting on and off). I then spent a day in Trujillo where I saw the Chan Chan ruins and nearly got robbed, took another overnight bus to Lima, got to Lima and boarded a flight to Cusco within 1 hour of getting into the city.
In other words, I hauled some major ass. And when I got to Cusco, it literally took my breath away. The elevation of 11,000 ft certainly didn’t help but the place was just gorgeous: white puffy clouds, some of the bluest skies I’ve ever seen, sunny, warm and bustling with activity.
Cusco is of course famous for its proximity to Machu Picchu and just about every backpacker/tourist who goes through Cusco will see the famous ruins. However, Cusco itself is also quite the gem. Believe it or not, Cusco has an amazing nightlife scene. And it helps to go to the right hostel.
Loki Hostel – Any backpacker through South America will have heard of the infamous Loki hostels. Probably the biggest chain of party hostels in South America, they are on par with the best of them in Europe. The one I stayed at in Cusco certainly lived up to its name. First off, it is massive. I stayed in one of the many 11/13 bed rooms for the duration of my time in Cusco and the place has hundreds of people. The hostel has a great outdoor lawn area in the center courtyard and has some neat perks like free breakfast (gets old pretty quick, little Peruvian baked bread with jam and butter), free internet (be prepared to wait) and nice little maps for each of the cities. But in the end, lets be real, it’s all about the raging. Come happy hour, all bets were off:
‘Nuff said. If you’re going to Cusco and looking for a party hostel, this is the one. Only downside: be prepared to walk up a MASSIVE hill to get to it. And at 11,000ft and hungover, I guarantee you’ll be struggling.
Nightlife – Cusco makes dancing/clubbing/drinking retardedly easy. Like an austistic monkey could do it. Essentially, there’s 4 clubs (Mythology, Mama Africa, Roots and Inca Team) all within a stone’s throw away from each other; as in you could stumble out one and roll into another without even knowing it.
But the best part was unlike clubs in the states where you pay to get in, clubs in Cusco PAY YOU to come. When you roll out of a taxi, you’ll be surrounded by 5-6 dudes making it rain with free drink vouchers and pulling you to go into their club. I’ve actually seen girls get picked up and carried into a club. And once you get in, they don’t really care what you do. Dancing on the tables and bar is literally encouraged. Top it off with a closing time of approximately sun rise, it’s no surprise that Cusco ended up being one of the best party cities in South America.
Ruins not called Machu Picchu – A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of ruins around Cusco/in the sacred valley that are not named Machu Picchu. There are several within walking distance and although not nearly as impressive as Machu Picchu, they are a really good warm-up to the real deal.
Cusco also has a host of other things around like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking and a ton of hiking.
The only downside I found was that the city often had water shortages. We had to deal with set shower times or no running water at all. The worst was when I got back from Machu Picchu and came back to my hostel where the woman working there offered me a bowl and a barrel of freezing water. Needless to say, after a day of hiking starting at 5am, I was pretty pissed off. Luckily, a little party at Loki settled me down.
Despite that little hindrance, I’d put Cusco at the very top of the list for places to go in South America. The mix of weather (I got lucky because there were floods recently which trapped tourists at Machu Picchu for days), natural beauty, sights, activities and partying make it one of my favorite places in the world.
Here’s a couple more photos:
And I’ll write about Machu Picchu some other time.