Let's talk about elevation for a minute, as it's going to factor heavily into the rest of our time in Peru. Iquitos, the Amazon River, and the rainforest were all around 300 ft above sea level. Lima's city center averages 500, which is slightly less than what we're used to: Chicago sits at about 600.

Cusco is above 11,000 ft.

That's a massive change. Stepping out of the pressurized airplane the sky looked lower somehow. There's really no other way to describe it. The horizon felt closer. The clouds were within arm's reach. But I didn't notice any physical changes in myself immediately. Not until we started walking uphill. That's when it hit me. I got winded a lot more easily in Cusco. It wasn't noticeable walking around the flat parts of town, but any staircase I saw gained extra respect.

The local cure for altitude sickness is coca tea. I tried a complimentary cup at our hotel: it tasted like a bland green tea, and I honestly couldn't tell if it had any effect on me at all.

Cusco Rooftops

Cusco houses and rooftops are jammed together beneath a low sky.

History is visibly layered in Cusco. A foundation of Inca stone supports Spanish brick which sometimes sits beneath modern materials. Each subsequent conqueror left their mark on the buildings around town.

Cusco Cathedral

This is the Cusco cathedral, showcasing layers of bricks from different time periods. The Inca stone is lit up by orange lights. It's hugely significant because the stone does not have mortar between its seams: this made it able to shift and move more freely during earthquakes, which allowed some buildings built by the Inca to stay standing while their modern counterparts crumbled. And archaeologists still don't know how the Inca managed to cut the stone into perfectly straight segments without modern tools.

Cusco Shops

This is a look at a typical street in the commercial district of Cusco. Shops and hotels fit right into the old stone, building in, under, and around.

Cusco lights.

The city's expansiveness only becomes truly apparent at night. This is the main square with a multitude of houses visible on hills in the distance.

We had dinner at Papacho's, a pub-style restaurant where I could order a burger. It was a purposeful choice to dine there because it's another location by Gaston, the chef behind La Mar in Lima. We were getting to know the chefs and their restaurants, just like the locals.

Cusco is as close as you can get by plane to Peru's most popular tourist attraction. We rested up, brimming with anticipation.