Coming from Europe, the flight to Cusco most likely involves a few stop-overs before the final flight in Peru: Lima to Cusco. It may well result in a number of unexpected and interesting experiences during the flights. When you finally arrive in Peru / Cusco, you cannot be anything other than overwhelmed by the charm of the Inca capital.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 24 JAN 2020
We soon realise that flying in South America in some respects considerably differs from flying in Europe or in the US. The rules, we know so well, don’t really seem to apply here.
Having thoroughly prepared our cabin luggage for the flights with all liquids in 100 ml containers or even smaller, all fitted into transparent plastic bags as prescribed by the airlines, it still takes us a couple of South American domestic flights to understand that things obviously work differently here.
Flight in Peru: Lima to Cusco
Freaky flying in South America – what can you take through security when you fly to Lima in Peru?
Before the last flight leg in Peru from Lima to Cusco, we have a number of changes. The first Latin American airport we get into touch with is El Dorado International Airport of Bogotá after a night flight from Madrid where we have been lucky enough to get an unexpected and pleasant second dinner at 2 a.m. in the morning – just when we thought it was about time to get a few hours of well-deserved sleep. We are now in transit and need to go through security.
The staff seem to be a bit annoyed, though, that we insist on presenting our plastic bags with the liquids in. We are actually waved through before we really get anything out of our bags. Filled water bottles apparently do not pose any serious problem. No need to empty or throw our bottles out before the security checks, neither in the airport of Bogotá nor in the majority of other airports we later become acquainted with.
The only respect in which the check turns out to be strict is when they, for some reason during the baggage search, remove our mosquito repellent and a tiny, tiny pair of scissors with completely blunt blades of less than 1 cm.
As opposed to the non-restrictive liquid policy, at some of the security checks the staff insist on a complete search of our pretty compressed bags. The worst incident is when the employees at one security checkpoint proceed to take everything out of one of our bags and line it up on a table. Most likely, they have not imagined how many different items and pieces of clothing and accessories we actually have managed to squeeze together in a laptop backpack.
They are seemingly responsible for putting everything back into the right places and zipping the bag again. Consequently, after fighting with the first intractable bag for a long time, the rest of our bags undergo a much more superficial search – just with a hand down exploring…. and we are free to go! Reassuring … or not?
Stopover in Quito
Soon landing in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, we are approaching Equator. The flight through the Andes Mountains is awesome, overwhelming and even a little bit scary. The aircraft follows the valleys, which means that we turn left, right, left etc. an uncountable number of times, twisting round the mountains. The route affirms that Quito, the highest capital in the world with an elevation of 2,850 metres (9,350 feet), is far into the Andes and not so easily accessible. What further keeps us alert and holding firmly on to our armrests is the strong turbulence through the mountains and when we go down on the runway.
A couple of hours later we find ourselves on the Avianca flight with destination Lima Airport. My fellow passenger by the window is a young Ecuadorian from Cuenca who is on a mission for his church. He tells me that he is on his way to Cusco and will be staying in Peru for two years. Apparently, he has never travelled before. Probably others on the plane haven’t either. A lady behind us makes the sign of the cross before take-off.
The Ecuadorian appears fairly nervous and is noticeably sweating. He hasn’t got the vaguest idea of how the air vent above the seats works, and is in the beginning reluctant to ask for assistance, although desperately needing it. Even if not familiar with the simple opening mechanism of the tray table, he is again too modest to ask for help. Of course I come to his rescue, permitting the flight assistant to serve him his well-deserved meal!
As he sees his problems solved, he finally starts relaxing. Towards the end of the flight, when we are approaching Lima, we are chatting like friends and he willingly explains about his wonderful city, Cuenca, and his future mission in Cusco and Peru.
Our anticipated challenge is Lima Airport, Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez. We arrive in Peru at 9 p.m. and have our connecting morning flight from Lima to Cusco the following day at 5:40 a.m. We have before travelling checked all possibilities for overnight stays in hostels and hotels around the airport. None of the places have really appealed to us due to either location or cost. Most of them would require leaving the relatively safe airport to go out into the surrounding favela-like part of the capital.
” Before our morning flight to Cusco in Peru we spend the night in Lima Airport…”
The one and only airport hotel is tremendously expensive, and we have made up our minds that we are not going to pay a fortune to sleep for just a few hours. Online we have read descriptions on how people with transfer flights in Peru stay overnight inside Lima Airport before the flight Lima to Cusco in the morning, and that is precisely what we are going to do!
Overnight airport stay before going from Lima to Cusco
Each bringing a fleece blanket for the occasion, well folded and compressed inside our cabin size backpacks, we are prepared! We are walking around to find the quietest corner of the bustling airport, on the public side of the security checkpoint. Not until early in the morning, will they open for the gates for the first flights from Lima to Cusco. Based on online advice, we go to the shopping mall and find an unoccupied spot for five in between a massage place and a convenient electronics travel shop.
It seems to be rather the rule than the opposite that you stay overnight in Lima Airport before flying to Cusco. The airport seems to be pretty crowded and people try to make themselves as comfortable as possible for the night. Apparently, there are quite a few morning flights from Lima to the Inca capital in Peru.
We share the space there with a French family and an older couple. Leaning against the wall with our bags behind the back and wrapped in our blankets, we find ourselves amazingly comfortable and in an extraordinary mood, more than ready to be off for Cusco!
We even get some hours of surprisingly good sleep, until the cleaning staff ask us to move, so that they can clean the area. Impressed by the efficiency of the cleaning process, we shortly after return to our spot and continue our sleep. Even if just anyone can enter this public part of Lima Airport, we feel secure during our overnight stay with police officers constantly circulating around us.
Andean Cusco in Peru
On arrival in Cusco the following morning, we immediately feel the cold and pure mountain air in Andes Peru – as opposed to the Lima climate. This is also in stark contrast to the summer-like Galapagos, we come from.
In the Andes Mountains there is not such a pronounced difference between summer and winter, as to the weather. At this time of the year, with July being a winter month here, the nights in Cusco are cold, whereas the days can be beautiful with relatively high temperatures.
Going from Lima to Cusco – arrived!
Our tiny, local Peruvian hotel, like many other Cusco hotels, provides a free shuttle service to and from the airport. Nevertheless, after waiting 20-25 minutes in vain without any car turning up for us, we take a taxi. It is easy to get one since there is a whole line of taxis ready to take people to their Cusco hotels.
When arriving at the hotel in central Cusco and talking to the staff in the reception in the family-run place, we deduce that there has been a miscommunication due to language problems.
The hotel owner, Diego, as well as the family members around, only speaks Spanish, and not English at all. The e-mail communication prior to our arrival has been entirely in English – we are now wondering how they did that! We, indeed, are in South America! They are extremely service-minded, though, and try to sort matters out. The case is that the hotel has been taken over by a new owner, since we booked months ago, and our booking apparently has disappeared in the computer files or paper piles – clearly visible on the desk!
Accommodating as they are, they do their utmost to find other rooms for us in their small hotel. Diego lets us know that he unfortunately doesn’t accept any credit cards for payment, although our booking confirmation says so. He then verifies that our notes are genuine, like everyone else in Peru!
The staff do magic and in no time we find ourselves in the only suite of the tiny Cusco hotel, even with a bay window.
Cusco or Cuzco (… or even Qosqo in the native language, Quechua) is situated at an altitude of 3,400 metres (11,000 feet) above sea level. We are curious how this will affect us, hoping not to get to suffer too much from altitude sickness, known as soroche in Peru.
After checking into the hotel we set out for a stroll in the heart of Cusco. The streets are in many places relatively steep, and gradually the altitude strikes us! In the thin air we find ourselves unnaturally losing breath. We walk at an involuntarily slow pace, frequently pausing, to catch our breath again. This is the way it is – we just need to take it easy. As the locals advise a cup of fresh ‘mate de coca’, tea made from coca leaves, has a remarkable effect on altitude problems. So – all precautions taken, we are now ready and off for a brilliant sightseeing day in the former capital of the Incan Empire!
During the next days we get to explore Cusco. We find our hotel conveniently located both for seeing all the historical and cultural sites, and for getting a feel for the local Cusco as well.
This is everyday life in Cusco / Peru
Even if our Cusco hotel is a rather primitive place, we feel at ease here. Our suite is spacious and has got electrical heating, which we suspect is not the case in the other rooms. However, as in many other places in South America, tap water in the bathroom is ice-cold. The shower, though, can produce tepid water provided we find the right moment! After all, it is not that bad for Peru!
On the bright side is the local and family-like atmosphere in the house. It appears that our Peruvian hotel is run by one large family. Every now and then we spot family members around, whether in the reception, in the small restaurant or cleaning.
We climb the stairs to get to the top floor where they serve the breakfast. From there we have the most gorgeous view to reddish-brown clay tiles all over the city with tall, snow-capped peaks in the background. The breakfast room has considerable full-length windows, so we truly feel that we are sitting right on the charming Cusco roofs. From here we can even just discern the Cristo Blanco on the Pukamuqu mountain in the distance.
We deduce that the few other people present in the breakfast room are all members of the host family. The young men are seemingly not particularly busy, but take their time for breakfast, listening to music and socialising in the hotel. Peru is a bit behind, since this is notably old music, being popular in Europe 40 years ago! They are chatting over breakfast, to each other and to the young woman in charge of preparing the meals. She is making cornmeal pancakes with ripe and tasty bananas for the guests.
However, the process is slow and we need to be patient. She can only make two at a time, and she talks as least as much as she works, which inevitably slows down the cooking process! That she has to brew coffee at the same time, does absolutely not speed up anything. The coffee maker is old, slow and repeatedly requires manual operation.
The woman is super considerate and it is to her liking to speak both to us and to her family members while preparing the meal. More than once she distracts herself from pouring water into the machine, and as a consequence we have to wait at least half an hour for our breakfast and coffee, despite being the only guests in the small restaurant on the rooftop. In Peru time is obviously not that important.
The male family members do not take steps to assist her, since it is evidently not their job!
Little by little during our stay we get the impression that each family member has his or her distinct duties, maybe just for a couple of hours every day. The rest of the time, they enjoy being sociable.
By now we have despite the thin air in Cusco regained our energy level. As recommended by most of the hotels in Peru, I help myself to a cup of coca tea for breakfast to avoid the worst altitude problems.
When we are about to leave the room after another excellent and nutritious breakfast, we surprisingly overhear that the three of them all of a sudden, by coincidence, realise that today is in fact Sunday. Sense of time is not really essential here!
Our local neighborhood
From our bay window we have an interesting view to local street life. We are close to a school and follow the neatly dressed pupils in their school uniforms passing our street to go to school in the morning. Just opposite our hotel there is a military academy and from our window we curiously contemplate Peruvian discipline and routines.
Further to the left, dedicated workers are busy walking up and down the sloping roofs to get to a house beyond. The street is also home to a number of stray dogs, and we see a couple of them biting through the plastic bags placed outside for garbage collection.
It is yet an absolutely charming, quiet neighbourhood, remote from busy roads and away from the usual tourist streets – and a gem of a hotel to get a touch of the local atmosphere!
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