Soon landing in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, we are approaching Equator. The flight through the Andes Mountains is awesome, spectacular and even a little bit scary. As required 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 connecting 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. 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. I come to his rescue, permitting the flight assistant to serve him his well-deserved meal!
As his problems are solved, he finally starts relaxing. Towards the end of the flight, when we are approaching Lima, we are chatting like old friends and he willingly explains about his wonderful city, Cuenca, and his future mission in Cusco and Peru.
Our 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.
The one and only airport hotel is extremely expensive, and we have made up our minds that we are not going to spend a fortune to sleep for just a few hours. Instead we will stay overnight inside Lima Airport before the connecting flight Lima to Cusco in the morning – like many other people travelling to Cusco in the early morning!
Each bringing a fleece blanket, we are prepared! We are walking around to find the quietest corner of the bustling airport, on the public side of the security checkpoint. The gates for the first morning flights from Lima to Cusco will only open in the morning. Based on advice, we go to the shopping mall and find an unoccupied spot at an electronics travel shop.
It seems to be rather the rule than the opposite that travellers stay overnight in Lima Airport before flying to Cusco. The airport is pretty crowded and people try to make themselves as comfortable as possible for the night.
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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 in principle anyone can enter this public part of Lima Airport, we feel secure during our overnight stay with police officers constantly circulating around us.
When arriving in Cusco the following morning, we immediately feel the cold and pure mountain air in Andes Peru – as opposed to the warmer Lima climate that we come from.
In the Andes Mountains there is not such a pronounced difference between summer and winter. 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.
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.
When arriving at the hotel in central Cusco and talking to the staff in the reception in the family-run place, we understand there has been a language problem.
The hotel owner, Diego, as well as the family members around, only speaks Spanish. The e-mail communication prior to our arrival has been entirely in English – we are now wondering how they did that! 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. Of course Diego verifies that our notes are genuine, like everyone else in Peru!
The staff apparently can do magic and in no time we find ourselves in the only suite of the tiny Cusco hotel, yet with a bay window!
Even if a bit primitive, we enjoy our hotel here. Our suite is spacious and has got electrical heating, which we suspect is not the case everywhere. The shower can produce tepid water provided we find the right moment! After all, it is not that bad for Peru!
What makes the hotel a veritable gem 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 spot the Cristo Blanco on the Pukamuqu mountain in the distance.
We guess that the few other people present in the rooftop breakfast room are all family members. Seemingly, the young men are not particularly busy, but take their time for breakfast, listening to music and socialising. They are chatting over breakfast, to each other and to the young woman in charge of preparing the meals. She makes 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 male family members do not take steps to assist her, since it is evidently not their job! The coffee maker is old, slow and repeatedly requires manual operation. Anyway, it is a unique opportunity for us to be ‘part of’ a Peruvian family!
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 rather enjoy being sociable.
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 have been curious how this will affect us, hoping not to get to suffer too much from altitude sickness, known as soroche in Peru.
The streets around our hotel and in the heart of Cusco are in many places relatively steep, and in the beginning of our stay the altitude strikes us! In the thin air we find ourselves unnaturally losing breath. The first day we walk at an involuntarily slow pace, frequently pausing, to catch our breath again. This is just the way it is – you have to take it easy until the body adapts to the high altitude in Cusco. As the locals advise, a cup of fresh ‘mate de coca’, tea made from coca leaves, has a remarkable effect on altitude problems – and you can hopefully without too many problems throw yourself into exploring the ancient capital of the Incan Empire!
Despite the thin air in Cusco we soon regain our energy level. As recommended by most of the hotels in Peru, also in our small hotel guests can help themselves to a cup of coca tea for breakfast to avoid the worst altitude problems!
During our stay we find our hotel conveniently located both for all the historical and cultural sites, and for getting a feel for the local Cusco as well.
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 observe Peruvian discipline and routines.
A bit further away workers are busy all day walking up and down the sloping roofs to reach a house beyond.
All in all, we seem to have found a gem of a hotel to get a touch of the local atmosphere in a charming, tranquil neighbourhood in Cusco. Our hotel is located away from busy roads and the usual tourist streets – but still very centrally in Cusco!
Hotel located at the famous San Pedro Market, just a 10-minute walk from the main square. The hotel features a buffet breakfast as well as coca tea. Enjoy the 4000 m2 garden in front of the hotel.
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The hotels has both family rooms and features a terrace and a garden. Located about 800 m from Cusco main square. Choice between continental or a la carte breakfast. A hot tub is available at the hotel for the guests.
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Located in the heart of Cusco, just 300 m from the small San Blas Church. The hotel features a garden, a terrace and a bar. There is a restaurant at the property. Family rooms are available. Paid airport shuttle service available.
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