Altitude Acclimatization -- You'll need to take it easy for the first few hours or even couple of days in Cusco -- which sits at an altitude of just over 11,000 feet -- to adjust to the elevation. Pounding headaches and shortness of breath are the most common ailments, though some travelers are afflicted with severe nausea (others may little feel effects of the altitude except when walking up Cusco's steep hills). Drink lots of water, avoid heavy meals, and do as the locals do: Drink mate de coca, or coca-leaf tea. (Don't worry, you won't get high or arrested, but you will adjust a little more smoothly to the thin air.) If that doesn't cure you, ask whether your hotel has an oxygen tank you can use for a few moments of assisted breathing. If you're really suffering, look for an over-the-counter medication in the pharmacy called "Soroche Pills." And if that doesn't do the trick, it may be time to seek medical assistance. Those who think they may have an especially hard time with the altitude might consider staying the first couple of nights in the slightly lower Sacred Valley (near Urubamba, Yanahuara, or Ollantaytambo).
As the top tourist destination in Peru, Cusco is well equipped with information outlets. There's a small, occasionally unoccupied branch of the Oficina de Información Turística (tel. 084/237-364) at the Velasco Astete Airport in the arrivals terminal; it's open daily from 6:30am to 12:30pm. The principal Oficina de Información Turística is located on Mantas 117-A, a block from the Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/222-032). It's open Monday through Saturday from 7am to 7pm and Sunday from 7am to noon. It sells the essential boleto turístico (tourist ticket). However, the iPerú office, Av. El Sol 103, Of. 102 (tel. 084/252-974), has been better stocked with information and much more helpful on recent visits; it's open daily from 8:30am to 7:30pm. Another information office is in the Terminal Terrestre de Huanchaq train station, Av. Pachacútec s/n (tel. 084/238-722); it's open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 6:30pm.
South American Explorers has an office and club in Cusco at Choquechaca 188, no. 4 (tel. 084/245-484; www.saexplorers.org). The office stores luggage, maintains lists of trail reports for members, and has a library of useful information for trekking and mountaineering. If you're traveling extensively, and independently, through Peru, it's worth becoming a member of this helpful group.
For up-to-date information on cultural happenings, bars and restaurants, check out www.agendacusco.com.
A Safety Note
Over the years, Cusco, which on the surface seems to be an easygoing, if increasingly congested, Andean city, has earned a reputation for being somewhat unsafe for foreign visitors, especially at night, when violent muggings (some using the "chokehold" method) have been known to occur on empty streets. There have also been reports of rapes, attempted rapes, and other sexual assaults in the past couple of years. While I have never had a problem in the city in more than 20 years, it's advisable to take some precautions and remain vigilant at all times. Incidents of drink-spiking have been reported; be aware of your drinking companions in bars and don't allow strangers to buy you drinks. Do not walk alone late at night (young women should travel in groups larger than two); have restaurants and bars call registered taxis to transfer you to your hotel. Be wary of unlicensed, rogue taxis in the city and surrounding environs. Young people staying in inexpensive hostels should be particularly cautious of hotel visitors and belongings. It's a good idea to be at your most vigilant, especially in the neighborhoods of San Blas, in the side streets leading off the Plaza de Armas, near the Central Market, and at bus and train hubs; still, robberies and attacks have occurred at the ruins at Sacsayhuamán on the outskirts of the city and even along the Inca Trail.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.