OK, so once you get over the altitude Cusco (or Cuzco) is one great little place. It’s a city of about a million people. The Plaza De Armas has two beautiful churches, heaps of great places to eat and sits bang in the centre of a great many Inca ruins. A place where you could easily spend a week or two looking around town and the neighboring sites such as Saqsayhuaman and Pisac.
As always, pleas leave any comments if you want to know more, have something to share or simply have a question. Will be glad to help!
Seeing the sights? Get a guide
When you visit the churches and Inca sites, hiring a guide is very highly recommended. It’s a good idea with Inca sites especially because some of the sites are nothing like they were back in the day and are a bit abstract to say the least. So getting the full story from a guide will transform a 5 minute in and out into a fascinating display. I’d almost go as far to say not using a guide would be a waste of time.
Guides are usually local women, often students, who will approach you asking you if you want any information about the site. Basically what they’re asking is ‘would you like a guided tour of this place!’ Usually they work on tips, and you’re helping kids learn English, which is very expensive in Cusco. So it’s a real job for locals! Typically we paid ten Soles (about $3.30 AUD) for a guide. But you can negotiate what you want.
Be warned at Saqsayhuaman (aka sexy woman) we got dicked by a guide who charged us forty Soles. Our driver reckoned twenty was the standard and dobbed him into the tourist police for us! It will take you at least 90 minutes to see all of Saqsayhuaman though. In case you’re wondering Saqsayhuaman is an aincent site that was both a fort and a university (sadly the two seem to go together) which has some of the finest stone masonry we’d seen on an Inca site. You can even see where the students practiced their craft. So it’s unmissable.
Getting out of town
We walked down to the bus depot out of town, but instead of getting a bus found a lovely old guy that drove us around the whole day for one hundred soles. This was fantastic because he drove all the way out Pisac, stopped at all the Inca sites and whenever we wanted to take a photo. He also took us for lunch out at the Pisac markets and never rushed us along. So it’s highly recommended to get a driver. That’s a good day in itself driving out to Pisac and back. Buses are way cheaper, but let’s face it one hundred soles is about $33 AUD for a whole day. And I don’t like tight arsed travelers!
Be warned, Cusco has to be one of the most touristy cities you will ever come across in your life. Ever second on the street you will offered massages, necklaces, photos with little girls in traditional costumes, shoe shines, prints, souvenirs, food… aaargh! Learn to say ‘no gracias’ very quickly! I suggest starting your holiday there because with the exception of Lake Titicaca, it gets much less touristy as you head back towards Lima.
Eating and sleeping
Firstly, if you can stand the walk up about 80 odd steps, Piccolo Locanda is one of the most beautiful hostels I’ve ever stayed in. Cheap too. They run a nice Italian restaurant next door as well. There are some party hostels e.g. Loki Backpackers in town and some stupidly expensive hostels. We met some friends that were paying $80 USD a night for a 3 bed room with virtually nothing. But we we paying about $20 USD for Piccolo Locanda. So shop around.
Speaking of food, you can eat virtually anything in Cusco: Mexican, quality Western cafe food, typical Peruvian, the Aussie Two NationsÂ restaurant, gourmet modern Peruvian. There was even the odd Jewish tavern for Israeli backpackers (presumably not completely kosher!). Not as much as Arequipa, but a bit more unique at the same time.
Find yourself a healerÂ
One of the freakiest experiences of the whole trip was meeting a Shaman healer. This guy has his shop door locked all the time and only lets you in if he likes your vibe. The guy reckons he’s in his sixties, but he looks like a cool biker guy in his 30 – younger than me! He let us in (we saw him tell one local guy to piss off) and told me I had conflicting colours. Luckily one of his necklaces, with a healing stone would set me straight. While I’m not a convert to Shaman healing and didn’t take the necklace, it was a bloody weird experience. This guy will work out stuff about you that you can’t completely write off. So if you’re a bit open minded, give it a crack. I can’t guarantee you won’t piss yourself with cynicism though. If you do get in, he does sell some fantastic hand made American Indian (like in cowboy movies) jewelry. All very cool.