Bus Station to Plaza de Armas
When exiting the bus station doors you will immediately be bombarded with taxistas, local taxi drivers, offering you the “best” rates to the center of town. Whether you are at an airport or bus station, they are the ones that pay a fee to enter the area so they will always charge you more. After all, “eres el rico”, you’re the rich one, being that you’re not Peruvian much less Cusquenean. Always exit the premises and walk past the guarded entrance.
Again, we’re in this to win it, so we’re walking, but if you want to take a taxi, this would be the moment. (Pay no more than s./5, as a local you would pay s/.3) Hang a left outside the entrance and pass the street vendors selling fresh juice and treats. (Unless you have a stomach of steel, you’re not ready for this yet; especially after you smell the river behind them.) This road leads out to 28 de Julio where you will see a large statue of Pachacutec to the left and if you’re lucky, llamas grazing in the grass. It should be s./2 if you want to climb the stairs to the top of the tower.
From there follow the more recently finished pedestrian walkway up to the next round-a-bout where you will find a gas/petrol station, grifo. Follow the road to the right of the station which will start you on your journey up Avenida el Sol. (If you arrive to Cusco by bus in the morning, this walk is nothing short of magical as you’ll feel like one the first to breathe this fresh Andean morning air as the sun illuminates your path ascending to the plaza and further, Sacsayhuaman.) Stop off at the fountain for early morning photos and if the artisanal market is open, enjoy your first efforts at bargaining in Cusco. This artisanal market is the largest in the city and is a good first place to stop off to gather ideas of how many suitcases or backpacks you may be purchasing to carry all your “authentic/handmade” llama or alpaca products home. As you progress up Avenida el Sol, it will be hard to resist entering into all of the other smaller markets, and why should you?
The next main attraction will be Qorikancha. Once the Temple of the Moon and Sun, the Dominican priests built their cathedral directly on top of the sturdy Incan base. It’s s./ 10 to enter and s./10 to enter the museum under the field below where you can see Incan mummies. Almost there! (Did you know that you’ve been walking over a river since you made the turn at el grifo? Three main rivers, once used by the great Incan Empire, run beneath three main streets in Cusco.) Continue past the early risers selling alpaca sweaters on the corners and you will dead end at the top of Avenida el Sol. Left will lead you to La Merced monastery but we want to turn right to the Plaza de Armas. After all, this is what you came to see right? Mornings typically fill the plaza with municipal street workers and if you arrive in time and don’t smell like a backpacker you may be able to enter the main cathedral for free between 9-10am for mass, misa. Otherwise, you’ll be shelling out s./25 to enter. The cathedral across the plaza contains the most ornate interior and the famous “Cuy Last Supper”.
So, you’re there. Hang out in the plaza and enjoy your first victory, enjoy one of the many coffee shops around the plaza, and if you want to be shamefully touristy grab some comfort food at the McDonalds next to the cathedral. It’s really not a bad walk if the altitude doesn’t defeat you first. If you feel a shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, or prickly needles in your limbs, stop and drink water. Rest, hydration and coca tea really are the best remedies for altitude sickness, sorocha.