July/August, March/April, May/June, November/December, September/October, South America, Travel Guide

Guide to Cusco, Peru

Sunday 16 February, 2014
On board with Olivier Laugero as he climbs out from launch above the start of the Sacred Valley that leads to Machu Pichhu. Photo: Olivier Laugero

On board with Olivier Laugero as he climbs out from launch above the start of the Sacred Valley that leads to Machu Pichhu. Photo: Olivier Laugero

It’s a high-altitude experience before you even leave the ground.


Epic thermals will take you to a 6,000m cloudbase above the homeland of the Incas, who inhabited Peru before the European conquest. Then dine in historic Cusco before dancing the night away in one of South America’s most popular tourist destinations. Once you’re flown and partied out, use whatever energy you have left to trek the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the mysterious lost city of the Incas.

Cusco is a historic Peruvian city built on ancient Inca ruins. Just above the town is the ruin of Sacsayhuaman, a walled complex that dates back to 1100 AD. The city lies at 3,300m and is one of the major tourist destinations in South America. There’s an excellent selection of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Be aware that Cusco is high, so take it easy the first few days as you acclimatise.

The main launch is a half-hour drive from town at 3,600m ASL and 900m over the Urubamba valley floor below, which leads towards Machu Picchu. It’s a roomy, two-wing grassy launch staring straight at the Urubamba mountain range, in which three glaciers lead to peaks of over 5,600m. Rachi launch is further away but offers a beautiful grassy hillside looking into the same valley.

Cusco pumps in the heat and rarefied high altitude air. 8m/s climbs are the norm with 12m/s often lurking in the cores. Base is often at over 6,000m, so if you’re susceptible to altitude take oxygen. If not, drink copious amounts of mata de coca like the locals do.

At this altitude the heat and thermals create a thermal breeze, so expect winds of about 20km/h in the afternoon. Overdevelopment will cause excessive winds. Evening restitution often comes after 4pm.

April to November

Launch: 3,600m ASL
Landing: 2,700m in the valley, 3,600m on the altiplano behind launch
Cloudbase: 5,000-5,500m in May going up to 6,000-6,500m in August

Both launches are reached by car and are spacious enough for hang gliders

The 30km XC back to Cusco is classic. Start in the Sacred Valley, cross over the altiplano of the high mountains and end up over the Sacsayhuaman ruins and the city of Cusco. Land next to the White Christ statue near the ruins. Don’t land in the ruins themselves – it’s illegal.

Follow the Sacred Valley east to Pisac. A beautiful flight over high grassy peaks with the option of good landings in the valley should you have a problem. Be careful of switching valley winds near Pisac, as four valleys meet there.

Although the Peruvian approach to airspace is very relaxed because there are very few free flyers in the country, there’s still airspace to the south and south-west and over Cusco city itself, and airliners sometimes approach from the west. When flying into Cusco, enter over the mountain range between the lake at Chincheros and Cusco to be on the safe side.

The altitude and ferocity of the sun mean that thermic turbulence is always a danger in Cusco. Dust devils can start as early as 9am and pilots should be wary of extreme lift and its associated turbulence.

Cusco has everything from $5 backpackers’ hostels to five-star hotels.  Chose somewhere within a few hundred metres of the Plaza de Armas, as it’s a nicer area and where all the action is happening.

For great advice contact Richard Pethigal of Cloudwalker Paragliding, who’s been running a tandem operation from Cusco since 2000. Richard is in Cusco from May until October.
Or the local paragliding school

“High altitude flying made easy, in a fantastic holiday location that’s only missing a beach.” Bob Drury

Great for older kids with lots of cultural and historical adventures. Many agencies offer tours around the Inca ruins, or go rafting, riding or trekking.

You’d struggle to get bored in Cusco. Visit the Sacsayhuaman ruins, take a tour of the city, raft the Apurimac River, take the train to Machu Picchu or hike the Inca Trail. If you’re feeling lazy then hang in town and eat and drink in the myriad of intriguing cafes and bars while Inca musicians serenade you.

Cusco has a micro-climate in a country with poor meteo information. You need your own judgement here.

Fly into Cusco from Lima or La Paz, Bolivia. Or beat yourself sore on a Peruvian bus with chickens and goats.


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