Cusco Acclimatization Hike to Qusilluchayoc Ruins

Cusco, Peru,  is referred to as the “navel of civilization”; the layers of cultures stretching back to pre-Inca times within a relatively small geographic area is amazing.  Yesterday I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take advantage of my new job with Peru Sur Nativa to spend half my working day hiking to the Qusilluchayoc ruins that are literally ten minutes by taxi from the city center.
Raul (Peru Sur Nativa’s founder and long time South American guide) and I set out around 8 am with our backpacks and a GPS to determine the mileage and altitude of the hike.  The intention of the hike was twofold: to give me an idea of the incredible terrain and history in Cusco and to be able to give Peru Sur Nativa’s clients a detailed explanation of a perfect acclimatization hike they can do in a half day in order to prepare for their multi-day high altitude adventures.
The impact of the altitude here can’t be overstated for those coming from sea level: the simple fact that you’re immediately exposing yourself to far less oxygen than you’re used to is enough to make even the most fit traveler experience headaches, nausea and lethargy.  Taking a day to rest and another day to do a local acclimatization hike is a GOOD idea to say the least.  After having been here for a week, and coming from an altitude of 4,664ft in Montana, I could still feel the pull on my lungs and legs when we were walking up the moderate hills.  For the most part the trail was moderate – mostly flat with short uphill sections and the opportunity to rest while exploring the Temple of the Moon where the Incas made offerings and held sacred ceremonies.  To say the least, it’s more than impressive to be surrounded by jagged green peaks on all sides and to experience the evidence of a culture that created such amazing temples with limited tools and had such a strong spiritual connection to their land.
We finished the hike by crossing through rural villages where the locals were working their fields with small hand tools; often with their babies and small children in tow.
Overall the 7 mile hike to 3 hours and reached a maximum altitude of 12,200ft.  A good introduction to the altitude experiences that lie ahead for me.  Another big lesson:  TAKE THE SUN SERIOUSLY!  I have lobster red skin anywhere it was exposed due to my failure to understand how quickly you can get a serious sunburn at this altitude on a clear day.  Lesson learned: even if the sky is cloudy when you start out always, always have sunscreen and plenty of water in your pack.
All in all, not a bad day of work!
Hope all is well north of the Equator,

Another report from Shannon Hughes, who moved to Cusco, Peru, in November 2011. She is working for our partner outfitter Peru Sur Nativa.