No matter how much we have enjoyed the places we’ve seen, so far we have been ready to move on from pretty much everywhere we have travelled by the time we had planned to leave. At the beginning of the trip we only planned a couple of weeks in advance at any time, but since we made the exciting decision to go to the Galapagos Islands next month (woohoo!) we have necessarily had to structure the trip a little bit more. We know now that the next two months will include Ecuador, Colombia, and a brief sojourn into Florida before we fly home mid-July. We have been happy to stay longer in lovely Sucre, and were happier still to skip through places we didn’t love such as Copacabana. On the whole we have managed to get the timing right, but Cusco….now there is a city we were not ready to leave!
Arriving overnight on a bus from another beautiful city, Arequipa, I suppose we had low expectations of Cusco. We had been told it was a great place by friends who had travelled there previously, but also got the impression it was little more than Tourist Central. But, like with Peru in general, we hadn’t done a lot of (read: any) research and so were pleasantly surprised at what we found.
The Plaza de Armas is the centre of the tourist part of town, flanked by not one, but two enormous and beautiful churches. It spreads out into more plazas, colonial buildings, endless cafes, shops, and cultural spaces all built atop original Inca foundations, everything jostling for space on cobbled hilly streets. We made the smart decision to stay with airbnb hosts who made us feel part of the action immediately, and it became apparent straight away that Cusco is a Brighton-type town – a San Cris in South America where you can come as you are and there’s likely to be something here for you. In other words, the kind of place people come to and tend not to leave.
The only downside we could see after our two weeks there were the endless opportunities to part with your money courtesy of relentless hawkers, which seriously got on our nerves. Sitting quietly in the main square watching the world go by is almost impossible when the world won’t stop hassling you (“Massage, amiga? Jewellery? Tours? Machu Picchu? Lunch? You want a citybus tour? Want a photo with my llama?”…you get the idea). But this is easily avoided once you stray a couple of blocks in any direction, and our favourite place was a square at the top of a steep hill which looks down over the city centre, with only a few people there at any time, as long as you avoided the tour groups who had the same idea!
For most people who come to Cusco, it is a tourist base used as a jump-off point for the ever popular tours to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, etc. We did one such tour but again, it wasn’t a hard-and-fast plan or even a certainty that we’d see Machu Picchu at all, but we’re glad we did (see our photo essay, coming soon).
Within the first two days of being in Cusco, I felt that two weeks wasn’t long enough. There is something about the energy of the place, and indeed, Peru in general, that has the pair of us thinking that we’d like to come back for more. Perhaps precisely because we had no expectations, Peru was allowed to open itself up to us in its own way, and we took the experience as we found it and had an amazing time as a result.