As with many travelers that swarm the notorious Gringo Trail annually, Cusco was the launching point for our two-week Peruvian adventure. Located at a not-so-comfortable 3,400 m (11,800 ft) above sea level, the historical Inca capital boasts numerous attractions that left us, quite literally, breathless.
Getting There and Around
From DC, it was quite the trek to Cusco. There are no direct flights to neither Lima nor Cusco from the three WAS airports, and all flights to Lima from DC take place late afternoon/evening…making an overnight at the airport to make your AM Cusco connection all too likely. Our journey went like this: IAD >> PTY >> LIM >> CUZ. A heart-stopping 42 minute connection in Panama City was followed by a 5 hour overnight layover in Lima, bringing our total travel time to just over 14 hours. Buenas suerte friends, buenas suerte.
From the airport to the Plaza de Armas (city center), a taxi will cost you 10 soles. You MUST negotiate fare before getting into the cab. If you don’t like the price the drivers give you, walk away and find another car. Meters are non-existent in the cabbies, so buyer beware. No need to tip unless the driver handles your baggage, in which case 1-2 extra soles would be appropriate. Once you’re in the city center, everything is reasonably walkable. If you get tired, a cab to various parts of town shouldn’t cost more than 5 soles max.
We stayed at Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta on Jiron Pumacahua for $10 a night per person (4 bed, ensuite bathroom). The hostel is zero frills but has the necessities: free blowdryer, linens, towels, breakfast, and luggage storage (what, did you think I wheeled my Samsonite along the Inca Trail?). There’s hot water and heat, but both were of dubious quantity, a pattern that repeated itself at our various hostels across the country. The staff was friendly and spoke English if you need it. My only complaint would be that the hostel was located about 15 minutes walking from the Plaza de Armas, which wouldn’t be a problem except that we had to walk through the narrowest of alleyways, with traffic, to get there.
Above- Cuy & various assorted dishes at Kusikuy
Possibly my favorite thing to do in life, and there is much eating to be done in Cusco. A few recommendations:
- Kusikuy (Suecia 339)- Cuy (guinea pig) & set lunch. Attentive, friendly, and relatively quick service. We ate fried cuy there…and it was tasty. Sort of like a leaner version of duck. Our guinea pig’s name was Pepito. RIP, little fellow.
- Gustitotis de Loli (Recoleta Angosta 613)- Pasta. THE PASTA….is divine. Highly recommend the tagliatelli and tagliolini. The only problem is that we had to wait an hour for it, so be prepared to twiddle your thumbs.
- Marcelo Batata (Calley Palacio 121)- Anything alpaca. The grilled octopus appetizer and pisco sour varietals are quite tasty as well.
Assorted dishes at Marcelo Batata and Gustitos de Loli
We originally had a much fuller itinerary of things to do, including a hike to Christo Blanco. However, adjusting to the altitude left us more winded than we expected, and we found ourselves people watching from the various cafes in the Plaza de Armas more often than not. If you wander around town, you may notice that a lot of buildings are constructed on old Inca ruins (check out the base of the building). Places to oogle:
- Santo Domingo Church
- Cusco Cathedral
- Plaza de Armas
- Choco Museo (interesting, but expensive if you want to buy the chocolates)
One additional caveat: while you may be under the impression from various travel forums that US bills are widely accepted, we found that almost all places preferred payment in soles. If you do decide to pay in USD, make sure your bills are fresh off the printer crisp. When exchanging dollars for soles, Peruvian banks will pay less for ‘damaged’ (ie: wrinkled, marked, folded) U.S. bills, so shop keepers are loathe to accept anything that is short of perfect.
More on our travels in Peru can be found here: