Early morning is definitely the most peaceful time in Cusco; before the multitudes of people, taxis, and buses take to the streets to begin another day in a vibrant and somewhat chaotic city. And now that the rain is letting up I’m reminded by the bright sunlight pouring through the skylight in my room how beautiful they are, as well. If you’ve had a day or so to rest after your arrival and don’t consider it torture to greet the day before 9AM, consider taking a morning walk to the San Blas neighborhood to get a glimpse of the city’s quiet side.
My favorite walk from my apartment, located near Plaza San Francisco in the heart of the historic downtown district, is to head west away from the traffic and starting climbing the stairs up to San Blas. Yeah, those stairs will be a challenge especially if you’ve only recently arrived, but take your time – there’s a lot to see even while you’re huffing and puffing. Yesterday I was headed up a flight of stairs off Calle Saphi when I was surprised by a cluster of sunflowers growing over a stone retaining wall, surrounded by dangling green vines and drooping purple blossoms. It was nice to have something so beautiful to admire while I let my heart rate return to less-than-hummingbird pace.
Once you’re up in San Blas pick any one of the narrow, car-free alleys that wind through the colonial era neighborhood and you’ll be amazed by the intersection of natural and architectural beauty. Whitewashed stucco houses with terra cotta tile roofs and ornate wooden doors and balconies that would fit in to any Mediterranean/European town line the cobblestone streets, usually with colorful geraniums drooping from window boxes and doorstep planters. My favorite street in Cusco is Siete Diablos. It’s a narrow pedestrian byway with a high stone wall on the uphill side that is almost completely covered by a curtain of pink blossoms. There are also several hotels that have added really interesting ironwork art to colonial building facades and some very small but abundant flower gardens in the postage stamp sized yards.
If you still have energy, walk all the way to the main road that leads up past Saqsayhuaman to catch the early morning light on the ancient stone walls of the ruins or on the jagged peaks across the valley. If you have your Cusco Tourist Ticket, this would be a great time to take a closer look at the ruins with fewer people and a more peaceful setting to imagine what it may have been like for the Inca living here 500 years ago.
When you feel like you’re ready for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat head back down to Tanda Pata, where there’s a number of great cafes and coffee shops. And, of course, after your early morning exploration you deserve a nap or maybe just some down time to read a book in one of the out of the way plazas hidden in the city’s quieter corners.