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1. Posted by gaviota (Budding Member 4 posts) 38w

Greetings to all! I will be spending some time in and around Cusco during August and September, 2016. I would appreciate suggestions for clean but inexpensive hotels, hostels or apartment rentals. Are there any specific areas of the city I should look in or avoid? Thank you!

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3. Posted by swazijem (Budding Member 2 posts) 19w

Hi Gaviota - how is the planning for Cusco coming along? When I was in Cusco, I stayed at the Loki Hostel and absolutely loved it! I was probably there for 2 or 3 weeks, with an Inca Trail trip in the middle of my time. The hostel is clean, has a restaurant and an overall nice vibe, and the staff is very friendly and helpful. They also had storage where I left my extra stuff while I was hiking. The friend I was traveling with actually met her now-husband at the Loki Hostel in Lima! :)

If you want more privacy, you can always try Airbnb (the Loki Hostel in Cusco is huge). I’ve used Airbnb in Santiago and São Paulo and it’s worked out well in both places. I contacted about 20 hosts in both places, asking for around a 50% discount, and then they countered with something in between my offer and the listing price. Just make sure they have good reviews before booking!

In terms of parts of the city to avoid, I felt safe the whole time I was there. Just be careful when you’re out at night. But the whole place is basically walkable and fun to explore. Make sure to go to the Mercado Central - the juice there is awesome! Also, if you’re interested in learning to make pisco sours, you should definitely check out this tour: -snip- (so worth it - they’re delicious!). It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Peru, but I’m happy to give you other recs of things to do if you want!

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[ Edit: Sorry, no promos please. Link to Forum Rules added. ]

4. Posted by Fatim (Budding Member 15 posts) 19w

I cant remember which concrete places arent fully safe, but the best you can do is asking there. I didnt feel thretened in any way during the days I was there, so dont be afraid

5. Posted by gaviota (Budding Member 4 posts) 17w

Thank you, Swazijem and Fatim. I appreciate your replies and they confirm my general impression about safety. And also thanks for the Pisco Sour class info, though I'll pass at this time! I found an AirBnB with a family, which is just what I was looking for.

I do have another question. Because I enjoy smaller towns, I would like to make Ollantaytambo my home base for about five days of exploring the Sacred Valley. But I'm wondering if Urubamba is a better choice because it's more central. Any advice?

6. Posted by swazijem (Budding Member 2 posts) 17w

Yay - glad you have somewhere to stay :) I truthfully didn't spend much time in either Ollantaytambo or Urubamba, but in general I've just heard more about Ollantaytambo. My guess is that either will be fine in terms of exploring the area. I would just look to see if buses run regularly to each, but I would be quite surprised if they didn't. And I'm sure if you wanted to use any tour company for exploring, they'd be able to pick you up on the way. When I hiked the Inca Trail, we made a stop in Ollantaytambo, so it may potentially be more touristy - if you're looking to escape that, Urubamba may be a better bet. But I'd continue asking around. Also, since it sounds like you might be more into seeing the authentic side of things, you may want to check out some of the lesser hiked trails - I think there are some for Maras and Moray, Salkantay, and Rainbow Mountain. Actually, the company that does the pisco class, -snip-, has some pretty good guides, if you want a guided tour. Whatever you choose to do, the trip is going to be amazing!

[ Edit: Sorry, no promos please. ]

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8. Posted by gaviota (Budding Member 4 posts) 10w

Thank you to all for your in-put. I have returned home from my trip to Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

You were all right about safety. I felt safe everywhere in Cusco and the smaller towns of the Sacred Valley. The Peruvians are delightful people.

80% of people in the Cusco area are dependent on tourists for their living so they can be very pushy with sales. It's tricky to find out what fair prices are should be thout getting engaged with them about things you don't really want to buy. Take your time and inform yourself about prices. Many people buy items labeled 100% alpaca that have no alpaca in them at all. If you are going to make an expensive purchase, do it in a reputable store rather than from a small vendor. Support the small vendors for inexpensive purchases.

Ollantaytambo is a delightful little town-touristy, yes, due to proximity to Machu Picchu. I spent three days in Ollantaytambo and would love to spend a month there.

There are so many hostels and hotels everywhere that it was easy to find a place without a reservation. One problem in Cusco - it really does get very cold there as soon as the sun starts to go down. Many of the buildings have very thick adobe walls which makes it really cold at night. Before you book or check in, ask if they have a heater in the room. Layers of heavy wool blankets are only good as long as you are in the bed! Bring layers of clothing and carry a warm jacket if you'll be out in the evening.

A friend joined me in Cusco after I'd been there for a few weeks. He had altitude sickness and was unable to walk very far. I never imagined that I would be on one of those double-decker tour buses, but... I was surprised at how pleasant and fun it was! In fact, I'd recommend it as a first or second day intro to the city. Most people have trouble adjusting to the altitude the first few days so it is an easy way to get oriented and get a 2-hour introduction to the history, culture and archaeological sites. People walk around the Plaza de Armas selling tickets.

Food is delicious everywhere in Peru. I noticed all the comments on blogs from people who got sick there, so I did avoid street food. I stuck to inexpensive restaurants, avoided salads, and never got sick.

I found a Quechua teacher and had a couple of hours of lessons on each of my first three days. Finding a teacher was difficult and I paid too much. I did find a teacher later who would charge 30 soles ($9) an hour. I don't think I can post the contact info here but will respond to a private message on that topic only. I think it's important to show respect to the local people by making an attempt to use their language. 6 hours of lessons resulted in priceless interactions with locals.

Thanks again for your responses to my questions. I hope this post helps someone!

9. Posted by johnniewalker01 (Budding Member 6 posts) 10w

Hi swazijem and gaviota, I read that many travellers to Cusco and Machu Picchu experience altitude sickness. It says that Altitude sickness occurs as your body reacts to decreasing amounts of oxygen; symptoms can range from headaches, fatigue and nausea, to tightness in the chest, fever and loss of balance and/or coordination. Any advice?

[ Edit: Edited on 30-Sep-2016, at 10:45 by johnniewalker01 ]

10. Posted by gaviota (Budding Member 4 posts) 10w

Advice? Yes! If you are young and fit you may have very little trouble with altitude sickness. Just take it easy for the first few days - eat light and avoid mountain trekking or other strenuous exercise. Drink coca tea and muna tea as often as you can - just avoid coca tea in the evenings as it is a mild stimulant and may keep you awake. Limit alcohol and stay hydrated. Get plenty of sleep.

Because I am an older traveler, I took altitude pills (doctor prescribed) for the first two days. I was fine after three days and at my normal activity level after about a week. But, if you have high blood pressure, altitude sickness can be quite miserable, and even dangerous. Talk to your doctor before traveling above 8000 feet.

To minimize problems, some people make Cusco their last stop in the Sacred Valley rather than their first. That might mean flying into Cusco and immediately taking a bus or taxi to a smaller town at a lower altitude. I suggest acclimating for at least two or three days before going to Machu Picchu. You wouldn't want to ruin that special (and expensive!) experience by feeling miserable.

Do not eat heavy meals for about the first three days you are anywhere above 8,000 feet. Stick to the many wonderful soups they make everywhere in Peru.

Avoid strenuous exercise for the first few days as well. This is easier said than done as most people have limited time for vacations and want to get right into the fun stuff. Almost anywhere you go in Cusco and the Sacred Valley is going to entail climbing up hills - steep ones! If you're having trouble, find simple, slow activities without a lot of uphill walking (and no mountain trekking!) for the first days. I suggest a double-decker bus tour. (The regular, enclosed bus tours usually involve quite a bit of walking to archaeological sites.) Find cafes or parks to sit in and watch the street scenes. Spend some time learning Spanish or Quechua!

The larger hotels will also provide you with 5 minutes of oxygen therapy if needed. You can ask at your lodging.

Keep these tips in mind but don't let worries about altitude sickness worry you. You may be one of the many people who have minimal problems.