We’ve had an exceptionally long stint here in Cusco. It’s been nice to relax and just unwind. We’ve spent our days anticipating the Inca Trail trek, meeting up with travel friends we’ve made earlier on in the trip, wandering and eating.
Cusco is a great city to stay in for a while. There is a lot to do, but admittedly, we’ve only done a small fraction of what there is to offer. But the city is beautiful to slowly stroll through and we’ve been lucky to find a wonderful hostel where our room offers us a beautiful view of the rooftops lining the valley and sides of mountains.
Being that we’ve been here for such a long while, here are some of our observations of the city:
- There are gangs of dogs here. Not imposing, rabid gangs, but more a gaggle of the dogs you would see at your town’s dog park who follow one foxy looking character around from trash heaps to promising looking humans with food. At night it is inevitable to be lulled to sleep by a chorus of dog barking.
- Another soundtrack to the city seems to be car alarm. Everyone’s ride boasts the same alarm ‘tune’ and I would hazard to guess that we hear a car alarm go off at least a dozen times a day.
- The touts and hawkers are everywhere. This is probably one of the most tourist-centric cities we’ve been in and just as our ears are inundated with the sounds of car alarms, we are overwhelmingly approached on the streets by locals offering massages, sunglasses, a peek at their menu, a ride on the city tour bus, mitts, toques and so on. After over a week here, we’ve gone through all emotions in dealing with this. Frustration that we can’t sit on a park bench or enjoy a coffee at a ground-level cafe without being approached. Sympathy in that we recognize they are just trying to make a living. Laughter when they recognize and beckon Ewan by calling him ‘Santa Claus’.
- There are two city tour bus companies that take you around on an hour and twenty minute tour of the city, including up past the Inca ruins of Saqsaywaman to the Christo Blanco. We opted for this tour at the start of our stint in Cusco as we were still adjusting to the altitude and liked the idea of being driven by everything. After this experience, we would just recommend that you do one of the daily free walking tours. The bus tour, while not too pricy, really only drives you around a small part of the city, and you spend a good chunk of time stopped at a market to shop and use the washroom. Ridiculous.
- There are a lot of good restaurants here! We especially enjoyed the hearty stews at Inkazuela and the alpaca dishes at El Cafe Tinta. We also enjoyed the food at the Ecopackers hostel, and Jack’s Cafe had pricy but delicious sandwiches. Aside from these spots there are of course tons of places to find extremely filling almuerzos (usually a big soup, a main dish, and a drink) for 5-15 soles ($2-$6 Canadian dollars).
- When you venture outside of the tourist area there are plenty of shops offering anything you would possibly need for the cold weather, hiking, etc. for a fraction of the tourist price. While some (or most) of this may be knock offs, it will do the job just fine.
- There are many possibilities for excursions. We opted to do the Sacred Valley, but there are also zip-lining, rafting, jungle treks, and other tours on offer. It seems like every shop surrounding the Plaza de Armas doubles as a tour office, so shop around!
- While we’re not technically in the rainy season, it has rained at least once every day we’ve been here. Though when the sun does show its face it can be quite hot. So even in the city, layering can be key!
- We weren’t sure what to expect regarding the altitude. We’d been in Quito (2800 meters above sea level) and had no issues at all. However when we arrived here (3400 meters) the elevation was immediately noticeable. The shortness of breath, upset stomach, and general malaise are all very real symptoms. It definitely took us a couple days before we felt comfortable and ready to hike the hilly streets.
All in all, Cusco is beautiful and we couldn’t ask for a better spot to chill before embarking on our Machu Picchu adventure!