Catching my Breath in Cusco


When I first chose Cusco Peru to be the location for my semester abroad, I focused on the vibrancy of the indigenous culture, the unique linguistic features, and the awe-inspiring nature preserved in the mountains. The altitude was an afterthought, nothing more than a number to me—albeit a large number. The reality of how high in altitude I would be did not hit me until my flight from Lima, Peru to Cusco, Peru. We appeared to still be at cruising altitude when the pilot announced that we would be landing soon. I looked out the window, still only seeing a blanket of clouds below, but after a moment, the clouds broke and the mountainous city appeared below me. I was absolutely certain that if my host family’s house had been visible me, I could have seen them waving from the kitchen window.

Stepping off the plane felt surreal, because it felt like I was walking off an aircraft that was still in flight. I couldn’t believe, when we drove to my new family’s home, that we could possibly still be going up. I definitely had to take a moment to catch my breath the first day as I took in the thin air and the breathtaking sights of Cusco. The bustling streets are constantly alive with street vendors selling colorful produce, buses crammed full of people heading to every corner of the city, and cars spanning decades.

Much of the culture of Cusco is attentive to the high altitude and thus I was instructed to eat lightly and drink a tea called muña to help me acclimate the first days. After a long day of traveling, I didn’t fight the instruction to take a nap, which would also help me to adjust to the elevation. I followed the strict instructions to take it easy the first day, and was even a bit nervous to walk too quickly on my way to school, but my family’s suggestions had prepared me well to breathe easy when it came time to begin assimilating into Cusco.

One my first days included a trip with the ISA group to Cristo Blanco in Sacsayhuaman, which is one of the high points overlooking the extensive city held in the palm of the Andes.

It was an inexpressible feeling to be towering over a city whose 11,120 ft elevation more than doubles America’s own Mile High City of Denver, Colorado. It was only then that I fully comprehended that this would be the city that I call home for the next few months, and it still leaves me breathless.

Leah Hoffman is a student at Millersville University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

One thought

  1. Leah, we’re happy to hear about your arrival in Cusco, Peru and your acclimation to high altitude living. Cusco sounds intriguing and we’re looking forward to following your experiences during your semester abroad and the photo’s you take throughout your journey.

Leave a Reply