On Cusco

Is it Cusco or Cuzco? The two seem interchangeable and I’m not quite sure which is right. I’m  going for Cusco.

Cusco is a strange place. It’s full of tourists and the main areas are clearly geared up to catering for them with expensive restaurants, Irish bars, Western Cuisine, McDonalds and shortly a Starbucks. Step away from the centre and you enter tight streets crammed full of locals, people peddling dodgy looking food, shops selling all manor of crap, generally a “3rd world” feel and yet high tech shops litter the place. The roads are mainly cobbled. The cars are all old and have questionable mechanicals (the number of ball joints that I’ve heard banging away!). After dusk it all changes and the locals cram the streets and the tourists disappear – it becomes mayhem.

I’m not sure I like it.

Go to the main square and you’re constantly bombarded by locals offering Cigarettes, Paintings, Postcards, Massages, shoe cleaning, sunglasses, sandwiches… You just can’t get away from them. To the point that if you sit still for any period of time you are constantly having to dismiss the pests.

Tourists are everywhere. You have all the types from the “serious” travellers in their pyjamas, the mom-and-pop in their walking trousers and shirts, the one week excess holiday makers, the trekkers, the people who watch a camera screen, the groups, the solo’s, the frightened, the fearless… They are all here. Most are American with a smattering of Europeans (mostly British and Irish). Most are friendly and I’ve met some really nice people over Breakfast, lunches, sitting in the Plaza, pubs etc, but it’s still a tourist town.

It is safe though. At no point have I worried about my safety. Police line the streets (mainly acting as traffic light enforcers), people give you a decent birth and exercising standard caution has been more than enough for me to feel comfortable. I’ve even ended up in the side streets where you shouldn’t be and not had any bother.

Cusco itself seems to have very little in the way of attractions too. There is the main square and a couple of other places but it’s easy to see all of these in a morning. Of course there are museums and Cathedrals to visit, but these cost money to get in (the main cathedral is S/25 or £8). When you do go in, you’re not that impressed (Museum of the Inca I’m looking at you!) and overall you’re left a little underwhelmed. I guess Cusco should be seen as a staging post for the Sacred Valley and beyond – there certainly isn’t enough inside the town to maintain interest! Unfortunately, due to altitude sickness and the timings of arrival / Inca Trail, I didn’t venture out of town to the sites other than Sacsayhuamán so have been a little bored here.

There are couple of nice places to eat though, The Real McCoy, The Muse, Jacks Cafe, Paddy’s Bar, Norton Rats, Los Peyotes spring to mind as nice places to spend a little time (indeed I’m writing this whilst sitting in The Muse) and there appears to be plenty of Hostels to choose from (I stayed in the El Tuco and it has been a great first hostel though not so much for the Solo traveller).

Tonight I take the night bus to Puno to have a look at the Uros islands and then off into Bolivia  for a few weeks. I have a sneaking suspicion that Cusco may end up having a more favourable outlook after experiencing the joys that they offer.

Massage, Mas-sar-ger? Maybe next time

Summary of expenditure

I’ve been careful with money the last 7 days, but not overly so – I’ve eaten when hungry, haven’t avoided the touristy places (although went for the cheaper ones), only drank a couple of beers (the prices are equivalent to the UK) but have had to pick up some medicines and guide books which were big costs.

7 nights in El Tuco Hostel: S/260 (inc. Laundry, renting of towels)
Food and drinks (inc. Water): S/283
Others (altitude pills, paracetamol, lip cream…): S/104
Guide Books (Lonely Planet Peru & Bolivia): S/210
Bus ticket to Puno: S/50
Total: S/907 (£226)

Inca Trail cost: S/1,500 ($535)
Inca Trail extras: S/300
Total: S/1800 (£450)

Complete Total: S/2707 (£676)

Ignoring the Inca Trail (which was always going to be a big expenditure) and the guide books (I should have brought my South America on a shoestring guide rather than the shitty Footprint one!!!) I’m running around £25 a day, which is roughly on budget!

Pictures of Cusco

More pictures of Cusco can be found in the Digitallery album South America – Cusco and surrounds

Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.