Cusco

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Cusco is the capital of the Inca Empire in Peru and one of the most magical cities that I have ever visited: the vibrant colours; the buzzing nightlife; the indie cafes… what more could you ask for?

I fell in love with Cusco and wanted to share with you all the places which I stumbled across.

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When to go?

May/June

I travelled to Cusco at the end of June just in time for the Inca Sun Festival on June 24th. The city was so full of energy and life but the only downsides were that we were in peak tourist season (£££) and there were people everywhere!

If you are looking for a quieter time then May is most likely your best bet as it is the start of the dry season but the mountains are still lush from the rain, there are also fewer tourists then.

The dry season runs from May – October. I experienced sunny days (around 15˚C) but very cold nights due to the high altitude. The wet season is therefore November – April and although there are less tourists there is of course rain causing landslides, most common in February, which can lead to difficulties with Machu Picchu treks.

Where to stay?

There are tonnes of options for accommodation in Cusco. With the help of a friend I managed to find a perfect hostel for only 70 soles/night for two people (you can email me for more details and the discount if you are interested).

Other places I personally didn’t stay at but heard good reviews for:

Wild Rover

A very fun, young, travellers vibe. The hostel is situated at the top of the Cusco which means two things – the view from the bar is incredible and the hike up is somewhat painful at altitude. There are also hostels in La Paz and Arequipa and if you go to all three you get a free t-shirt!

56 – 100 soles (pp/n) and all the rooms are dorms

Ecopackers

As hinted at in the name, this hostel is the perfect place for chilled out backpackers. They offer breakfast included, a kitchen to cook in and free wifi!

From USD11 (pp/n)

 

Transport

Airport

A taxi from the airport should cost you 20 soles, the grey coloured taxis are the official airport ones and the drivers will all have ID, these are definitely the safest ones to get.

Around Cusco

Walking will be your main mode of transport when getting around the city, but most taxis will charge 4 soles for a journey in the city centre. There is also Uber in Cusco! The public buses run from 6am – 9pm and will cost from 0.70 – 2.50 soles (you will need small change). The sightseeing bus costs 20 soles and each tour lasts around an hour.

Around Peru

There are usually departure taxes leaving a city by bus:

  • Leaving Puno ~ 1.50 soles
  • Leaving Puerto Maldonado ~ 3 soles

Bus companies I used:

  • Turismo mer ~ 50 soles Cusco – Puno, 7 hours, 8:30am or 10pm. There is on and off wifi and a snack. They will charge 10 soles to change a ticket
  • Cruz del sur – 51 soles Cusco to Puno, 6:30 hours, 10pm. You get a TV, small snack and coffee.

It is best to go to the bus station the day before and book your seat on the bus, all the buses have very comfy seats and most will give you a snack.

 

Where to eat?

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Cusco is packed with cute cafes and delicious restaurants hidden away on side streets and through arches.

Cafes

La Valeriana ~ a central bakery with the yummiest apple crumble muffins ever and a large selection of herbal teas and other goodies. There is a huge wall where you can stick your own love heart notes to the tree!

La Bo’M ~ mmmmn. The interior decor is a reason alone to visit. They have the most incredible crepe menu out there and beautiful views over the city. And if you didn’t think it could get any better… they own the hostel downstairs and give a 10% discount on the crepes to people staying in the hostel and a free breakfast. More crepes? Yes please!

Panaderia Qosqo Maki ~ cheap, yummy and hands down the best chocolate brownie I have ever tasted.

Pizza

El Tabuco ~ stone oven pizza, and they even do delivery!

 

All small, family owned restaurants will do a ‘Menu del Dia’ which includes a soup, main (usually rice and meat) and a drink for 8-10 soles. I would HIGHLY recommend this to travellers, this is such a cheap way to enjoy the local food.

 

What to do?

Oh my… the markets. I have been to quite a few markets around the world on my travels, and Cusco’s markets were definitely up there. Everything was just so beautiful, the only thing preventing me from getting it all was the limited space in my backpack.

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My personal favourite market was the HUGE Artisan Market on Av. Tullumayo. It was jam-packed with alpaca jumpers, earrings, rugs… and so much more.

The San Pedro Market also had heaps of knick-knacks and food!

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An unmissable site in Cusco is the Plaza De Armas, which (of course) is a large plaza surrounded by stunning cathedrals and is, although a little more pricey, a perfect place to enjoy a drink and bite to eat.

Sacsayhuaman … or ‘sexy woman’ is a site of inca remains just a 10 to 20 minute walk up the hill from the centre. Of course not quite as impressive as Machu Picchu, but somewhere worth uphill the altitude walk. You can wander around yourself or have a tour.

Tours to Machu Picchu

I am doing a separate blog post all about our tour to Machu Picchu, click here to read it.

 

Getting By

Some handy tips and necessary information for travelling in Peru.

Language ~ Spanish

Currency ~ PEN (Peruvian soles)

Electricity ~ The standard two pin (US) plug is used

As with all South American countries, always always always hide your money. I have heard of countless cases of pick-pocketing in Peru so please be extra careful.

Most ATMs will charge you, and never use the global net ones as they charge huge amounts! There is one just down from the Plaza De Armas on the other side of a rectangular fountain which doesn’t charge.

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In general the markets will only accept cash, and I had a lot of trouble paying with MasterCard as most places which do accept card only accept Visa.

US Dollars are accepted and can be exchanged very easily, perhaps not at the best rate though. Bartering is definitely allowed in the markets, never accept your first offer.

If you can, SPEAK SPANISH! This will open doors for you and reduce prices significantly.

Malaria ~ there is no risk of malaria in Cusco or Machu Picchu.

Altitude

Cusco is 3400 meters above sea level which can cause a lot of problems for some travellers. Nearly half the number of tourists visiting Cusco will suffer from altitude sickness (soroche), that said this is nothing to worry about. You may feel a little dizzy, sick, and/or have shortness of breath.

I am not a doctor, but here are some tips that I heard:

  • It is important to not try and do too much on your first few days
  • Avoid alcohol, or if you are drinking take is slow as it hits you a lot harder
  • Drink lots of water
  • Put chlorophyll drops in your water
  • Drink Coca Tea

 

I hope this helps!

Sacha xx

To do or not to do – GY ep.1

Hello!

For me, doing a gap year was something I had always wanted to do since I realised that they were a ‘thing’, but I know that it can be a tricky decision for those of you sitting on the fence.

There are many different ways you can spend your gap year – volunteer work, ski season, travel… to say a few. I am doing a mix of volunteer work and travel and so have compiled several pros and cons of doing a gap year from my perspective.

Pros

↬Travel ✈

For those of you who have always wanted to travel the world this is your perfect opportunity. A gap year gives you the time to earn your money and explore. I think that one of the best things about travelling for me is the person I become when I am travelling. I find that I am so much more open to push my boundaries and step outside my comfort zone. I am more willing to chat to local people and learn about their lives and opinions.

↬Freedom

A year to do whatever you want… what could give you more freedom? Freedom is not for everyone, some people thrive on a strict schedule and some thrive on a more relaxed way of living. I have found that this year has given me the time to do exactly what I want and try the things I have always wanted, but haven’t had to chance, to do. I have started a youtube channel, a blog, have had time to read more books, teach myself embroidery, and even learn a few songs on the guitar!

↬Earning Money / Fundraising

I honestly cannot stress how valuable the ability to earn money for yourself and fundraise is. To get to where I am I had to fundraise £6200  for my project and earn over £1500 for travel. I found that no matter what I was doing, it was when I put effort in that I saw the results. Working to raise this amount of money has given me so much more confidence in taking to people, achieve seemingly impossible goals and has also allowed me to see the generosity in my own friends, family and even strangers.

↬Growing Up

Put yourself in this situation:

You are standing in a classroom of thirty five-year-olds running around, piling themselves on top of you, shouting things at you in a different language, stroking (well pulling) your hair and just being overall mental. Then you realise that actually you are their teacher, and they are expecting you to start handing them out sheets of paper and crayons, but you don’t know how to say either paper… or crayon… in their language. The noise is getting louder and the kids crazier. You are just waiting for the moment to wake up from this humiliating and crazy dream.

That is how I felt the first time I was put in front of a classroom to teach art here.

Now, I cannot say how far I have come. I have been through so many situations this year which every time seem less and less difficult. What was once deemed as impossible, or crazy, is now part of my routine.

I cook for myself, I clean my house, I am the one to keep an eye on the amount of loo roll left, I am the one who has ensure that I have clean underwear… This was all brand new to me 9 months ago and now it is second nature.

I think that I have learnt above all that nothing happens unless you make it happen, everything is in your hands.

Cons

↬Away from Study ✎

Now I have decided to put this as a con, but really is can be a pro too. A year out does mean that your ability to write 10 page essays in 2 hours shrivels up and your mental maths evaporates… but you also have the time to learn so much more about real life. I have had a year to learn Spanish from scratch without a single classroom involved. I have also had time to prepare myself for my specific university course and read several related books.

↬Loss of Contact w/ Friends and Family

To me this is the most con con of all the cons… yes my English teacher would not be proud with that grammar.

Keeping in touch with loved ones when your wifi is super dodgy and both you and them are busy busy busy is tough. Trust me. In order to keep my friendships strong I have really had to put an effort in, which is right, but it means that my friendship circle has decreased to only those I really care about. I guess this is the harsh truth, but it can hurt when you realise that people are slipping away.

All I have to say is that if you put the effort in, and live through the blurry skype calls, then you will keep your bestest friends close.

↬Cost

Ew, everyone hates money chat, so lets keep this brief. Yes travelling costs, yes gap years can be expensive… its up to you if you if working your ass off with late night shifts during exams is worth the white sandy beaches, insane instas, and bikini tan lines (its clear what my opinion is).

↬Self-Conservation

This is something a little more specific to my project here in the Dominican Republic. My partner in crime (Izzy) and I have found that sometimes it can be tough living and working for such a long period in a community so different from home. Views on dancing, alcohol, music, clothing, piercings, etc are all so different. We have found that in order to be accepted by the community we have to hide certain sides of ourselves. For example, dancing in our village is seen as a very non-Christian act, therefore in order to be respected in the community we are not allowed to dance. This can be restricting at times and we have to be careful about our image while being here.

I have also made a Youtube video about this on my channel if you are interested.

I do hope that this helps, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask! I am going to be making a series of gap year related posts so if you have any questions you want answered please ask away and I will cover them.

Ciao,

Sacha xx

Huelga

Hello hello lovely people reading this.

In two weeks time I am going to be jetting off to Cuba for Easter week with my adopted family; the Goddard clan! In the meantime, our second term here is coming to a close meaning I only have 2 months left of teaching in this beautiful country.

I honestly cannot put into words how much the time has flown by here, in the back of my mind we are going home in just over 4 months (so soon!) but I would never want to wish away the days here.

For those of you who don’t know, I am teaching Art here for kids in 1st-4th grade, so ages 5-12 (roughly). In 1st and 2nd grade we have been travelling the world in Art!

We started off with the Dominican Republic with the sugar cane fields that surround us here in the south, then up into the mountains where they grow strawberries in Constanza, then to the North coast to find white sand beaches and whales! From there we flew all the way down to the Amazon and found all sorts of colourful birds and animals living in the rainforest. Then we sailed across to Africa and hiked through the desert, spotting giraffes and elephants when we were lucky. After that we swam all the way down to Australia following dolphins, turtles and schools of fish. Our final stop was Japan just in time to see the cherry blossom before heading back home to the DR.

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3rd and 4th grade were focusing on different types of art from all around the World. The four types we focused on were Taino (native to the Carribean), Aboriginal (work by indigenous Australian people), the Ndebele Tribe (South Africa) and Mosaic designs from Italy.

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A major event this term was the Carnival on the 27th February which marks Independence Day! Izzy and I spent the weekend in Santiago with the other Project Trust volunteers and joined the carnival parade in La Vega! The costumes were absolutely incredible. The photos below show the Diablo Cojuelo (Limping Devil) who carries a whip or “Vejiga” (an animal bladder filled with air) which is used to hit people down the street, and trust me it hurts! The mask is supposed to represent the Spaniards who came and enslaved and whipped the natives on the island.

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We also had our own celebrations in the school and made masks in art and dressed up in our own carnival outfits! The kids below are dressed as Tainos (the native Dominicans).

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The last two weeks have been tougher as all of the schools have been on ‘huelga’ – strike. Luckily our school was only on half day strike, but it has been much harder to teach the kids as we have only been having half the number of usual classes. The reason for the strike was that the government were refusing to pay for the food (lunch, and bread and milk for breakfast), and without the food we were not able to have afternoon classes. This is especially difficult in a community as poor as ours as the families rely on this food as the main meal of the day for their children, and the poorest families cannot afford to feed their children so this is the only food they receive. Thankfully we are back to normal now though.

It is now getting dark and I can hear mosquitoes incredibly keen for a taste of me, so I will sign off here!

I hope you enjoyed the update and have also seen my most recent Vlog.

Sacha xx

Day 4: HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training

60 seconds per exercise, 10 seconds rest between

🌸 HIP CIRCLES

Do 30 seconds rotating hips clockwise, then 30 seconds anti-clockwise

🌸 BICYCLES (legs and arms)
🌸 SPRINT
🌸 SQUATS WITH CALF RAISE

Squat normally but raise alternate heels each time you go down

🌸 HIGH KNEES
🌸 LEG RAISES

Lie on your back with your legs straight and raise them together as high as you can keeping them straight.Don’t touch the ground between each rep! Do in sets of 10

🌸 JUMPING JACKS
🌸 HIP RAISES

Lie on your back with your knees bent then raise your hips up, keep your butt off the floor between reps

🌸 BURPEES
🌸 VERTICAL LEG CRUNCHES

Normal crunches but raise your legs in the air, ankles crossed. Do in sets of 15

🌸 MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS
🌸 20 BALLET SQUATS

A regular squat but with your feet pointed out

🌸 BUTT KICKS

Remember to always stretch before and after exercising!

Good luck! xx