We had a bit of a lucky break transport wise on leaving Arequipa – after much discussion we apprehensively booked seats on another overnight Econo Civa bus, thinking at least this time we would know what we were in for and we would definitely not book seats at the front! But as luck would have it, we checked in at the Arequipa bus terminal and ventured outside to board the bus, only to find out that we had been upgraded to a Super Civa bus! This felt like luxury, with its more spacious, comfy seats and tonnes of leg room. Unfortunately for Michelle however, the layout of this bus meant she was no longer sitting next to us, and she ended up wedged in the middle of a large family group towards the back of the bus who had no qualms about draping half of their belongings over her. Nevertheless, it was still an improvement from our last journey!
Cusco is an interesting city in many ways. Arguably the tourist mecca of Peru, the city centre is grand, picturesque and crammed full of gringo friendly shops, restaurants, bars and tour operators. Of course, those things come with matching tourist price tags – everything in the centre of Cusco was expensive, especially for those on a backpacker budget! Luckily for us we had found a great little 2 bedroom Airbnb about a 20 minute walk outside of the city centre, which was considerably less pricy than most other accommodation options we saw and came with the added bonus of a kitchen and living room space all to ourselves.
The parts of Cusco that are outside the touristic centre though feel drastically different. Instead of the high end speciality restaurants and pricey souvenir shops you are surrounded by cheap, local eateries – one near our apartment became a particular favourite of ours thanks to their amazing salchipapas – street vendors, fruit stalls and a lot of general hustle and bustle. Also, the water in the outer city neighbourhoods gets turned off at night between around 10pm and 5am, something that Dan and I haven’t experienced at all on this trip, even in the more rural parts of Central America. It seems that the wealth of the city is purely concentrated in the centre – and this, in fact, is almost a microcosm of Peru as a whole, with the entire country’s wealth being restricted to the south of the country while the less touristic north is forgotten.
Naturally our first port of call in Cusco was a free walking tour. We booked places with Free Tours by Foot Cusco, a great company with a very knowledgable guide who told us all about the history of Cusco and took us some really interesting places, including the main market where we saw our very first dehydrated llama and alpaca fetusus.
Belinda and Keith, our friends from the Galapagos who we basically followed all the way through Ecuador, were also in Cusco fresh off their hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchi and a trek up Rainbow Mountain, so we got a chance to meet them for dinner. We went to Papachos, an amazing burger restaurant just off the Plaza de Armas, before heading to the Irish pub next door for drinks. We were particuarly excited when we spotted a full English breakfast on the Irish pub’s menu, and the day before we left Cusco we went back to try it –thankfully it did not disappoint. It even included homemade baked beans!
We also found a fantastic coffee shop in Cusco called Cafe Dwasi that we visited several times thanks to it’s delicious coffee and tasty treats. Dan also tried the lomo saltado sandwich which he still raves about to this day! Cusco also followed in Huaraz’s footsteps in terms of delicious ice cream, which Michelle and I indulged in at any opportunity.
One day we decided to catch a collectivo for 10 soles per person from the corner of Puputi and Cesar Vallejo in Wanchaq out to Pisac to visit the Inca ruins there. When visiting Inca sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, you get a bit screwed over with the tickets – you can either buy a pass for two sites, which is only valid for two consecutive days, or you can buy a pass for ten sites that is valid for longer but, of course, is vastly more expensive. As we wanted to visit a few different sites but had our Machu Picchu visit slap in the middle of our Cusco stay, we were forced to buy the ten site pass – which we were especially grumpy about after getting to Pisac and finding that the ruins were pretty underwhelming! For anyone who is thinking about a trip to Cusco, we don’t really recommend the Pisac ruins – you can wander around the site but there is no information to read and very little in the way of directions, so you can’t really learn a lot. The town of Pisac itself however is pretty cool, with the market alone making it worth a visit. There is a huge array of souvenirs and traditional Peruvian clothes and jewellery on offer, and Michelle was thrilled as she got to do all of her souvenir shopping there at much cheaper prices than in Cusco!
After our first few days in Cusco it was time to head off to catch our train out to Machu Picchu, which we will write about in a separate post. When we returned we only had a couple of days left in the city, during which Michelle went off to hike up Rainbow Mountain while Dan and I (as we were feeling far less energetic) mooched about drinking coffee and wandering around the streets of Cusco. All too soon it was time for us to move on – but this time Michelle would not be joining us, as she was returning to California. It felt very sad and strange to say goodbye, but we were all glad that her trip had ended on the high of Cusco and Machu Picchu!