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City Blueprint: Cusco, Peru

Cusco is a cozy little city in the south of Peru. At first glance it feels like just another tourist hotspot overwhelmed by westerners but beneath the surface there’s a little more to it. The city has a very homely feel and its narrow alleyways and cobblestone roads give it a unique South American charm that’s not quite as prevalent in the neighbouring countries. The welcoming spirit makes the culture and people of this city rather endearing and I was somewhat enamored with the place by the time I left. You can definitely feel the western influence that has crept in but getting under the skin of the city reveals a lively latin culture that you will surely find intoxicating.

Budget

Bed: Hostel dorms start at around $5 USD. Hotels range from $30 up to the extravagant.

Food: Eating in the local joints will have you well fed for around $2 a meal.

Drink: A bottle of water will cost around 75 cents. A beer in a bar will cost you around $2.

Transport: Taxi rides will be around 3 soles ($1). You shouldn’t pay anymore than 5 soles ($1.75) to get anywhere in the city.

I stayed at…

Pariwana Hostel I spent about 2 weeks staying here, and in terms of value for money it’s easily the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. Here’s why:

  • The cheapest dorm bed will cost you around $8 a night. That includes bread, jam and juice for breakfast. You get 2 pillows and the bed was more comfortable than my own bed at home.
  • There’s free wifi and around half a dozen computers that are free to use, as well as a TV room.
  • There’s a restaurant and bar in-house that serves great food for around $5 a meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Free tea and coffee all day.
  • Dorms have massive lockers with power plugs inside.
  • 5 minute walk from the central plaza and 24 hour security.
  • Awesome hot showers and clean toilets.
  • Tour desk, activities each night and a kitchen.
  • Free bag storage while you go to Machu Picchu.
  • English speaking staff who know exactly what they’re doing.
  • Noise free zones around the dorms at night.

What more can you ask for?

Pariwana Hostel courtyard. Photo credits: Hostelworld
Pariwana Hostel courtyard. Photo credits: Hostelworld

One thing you should eat is…

Lomo Saltado – This is a Chinese inspired dish, most likely invented by the Chinese immigrants that scrambled the motherland and ended up in Peru looking for work. It’s a kind of like a Latin chop suey – beef, veges and potatoes stir fried in Asian flavours and served with white rice. While I was in Cuzco this was my go-to dish for whenever I needed a hearty meal. Look for it in one of the “chaufa” restaurants around town, which are basically Chinese restaurants with a Peruvian twist.

By Marejo (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pisco Sour – Chileans and Peruvians argue all the time about who invented this zingy cocktail. It’s made using Pisco – a type of brandy that’s native to Peru (and Chile, apparently). The other ingredients consist of a bit of lime or lemon juice, some bitters, and a drop of egg white, which I suppose gives it the frothy topping. I’m a huge fan of lemon, lime and bitters, so this drink quickly became one of my favourites. Peruvians love this drink too, almost as much as their Inka Cola. There’s even a public holiday dedicated to it!

One place you should go to is…

While the obvious tourist hotspots around town are well known, quite a few people miss out on the Molino market. It’s really not too different from street other markets around the world, but it’s a great place to do some cheap shopping. The vendors are far more pleasant to deal with than China’s “This scarf very special material will only cost you five thousand dollar!” types. I bought my fair share of stuff here – locks, dress shoes, jacket, movies, booze, toys. All at great prices too. To get there, simply tell the taxi driver you want to go to Molino. They all know where it is and it’s only a 5 minute drive from the centre. Great place to pick up souvenirs, too.

One place you should party at is…

Plaza de Armas! In all honesty, almost all the clubs around here are the same. If you head to the Plaza at night there will be promoters from each of the different clubs wandering around offering free drink tickets (sometimes they’re around during the day, too). Once you’ve finished your drink, you can head outside and get another one! Backpackers love this town because you can go out every night of the week and not spend a single cent. It’s not hard to see where it gets it’s reputation as the booziest town in all of South America.

Inka Team

Bren’s Scorecard…

Ease of entry 5/10
It has it’s own airport, but most flights come in via Lima. The bus is horrible by most accounts. Only direct flight I know of is from La Paz, Bolivia.

Food 6/10
Local food is very different, and lot’s of good western options around too. However not a whole lot of variety.

Weather 5/10
As long as you avoid the rainy season, it’s not too bad. However at this altitude it can get pretty chilly at night, and if your body doesn’t like the altitude you won’t be feeling too great for the first few days.

Safety 9/10
It’s a very welcoming city, with good tourist infrastructure and a heavy police presence. I used to walk around alone after midnight and never felt in danger.

Transport 8/10
Taxis are very cheap (around $1 anywhere in town).

Friendliness 8/10
A couple of taxi drivers tried hustling me here. However most people are very pleasant, and street sellers are generally good at respecting your space.

Cleanliness 8/10
In the main tourist spots it’s pretty much spotless.

Daylife 5/10
There’s a few adventure spots in the surrounding areas, but the city is small and doesn’t offer much (if you’re into ruins, there’s quite a bit of that).

Nightlife 7/10
Always lively, but lacks variety.

Affordability 9/10
Outside of the heavy tourist spots, it’s so cheap! A decent 3 course meal gets as cheap as $1.50.

Cuzco scores: 70/100

I do my best to give an objective score based on my own experience of the city. If you disagree, I don’t care! Just kidding, I do 🙂 Did your experience differ to mine? Let me know in the comments below!

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