We did much more during our six weeks of travel in August and September of 2017 than hike the Inca Trail. I’ve written about part of our time in the Quito area and in Cusco and the Sacred Valley before the hike, but we also spent some time in Cusco and Lima afterwards, before heading on to Uruguay.
We really enjoyed our time in Perú, so I wanted to go back and spend a little time re-visiting each stop. Before we get started, I present to you two Truths that I learned. First, the food in Perú is incredible, among the best in the world. And second, if I hear someone playing “El Condor Pass” on pipes one more time I’m going to grab their quena and ram it up the first available orifice I can find.
Yes I would. I truly would.
Anyway, to prove the First Truth, here are examples of just a some of our meals in Cusco:
The trout and the beef/fish over quinoa risotto were both at a little restaurant we found on a side street off of Avenida del Sol. This is one of our favorite things to do when we travel – find a non-touristy spot where only the locals usually eat. This restaurant was called “Yuraq RestoBar”, and the food was amazing. It was one of those little neighborhood spots where the chef comes out and greets everyone with a hug and a kiss, and stops by later to make sure everything is okay. Although both times we ate there we were the only gringos present, the staff and other customers were friendly and welcoming.
And the Pisco Sours! Probably the best we had in Perú, with the possible exception of La Rosa Nautica in Lima (more on that later). Order early, because the bartender goes through such a complex and delicate procedure, you would think he was purifying uranium or something. Now that I think of it, the results were pretty explosive.
We saw some beautiful and mysterious things in Cusco and the surrounding area, but there is one thing I have to point out as a negative. The street vendors, in Cusco especially, are extremely annoying. They are aggressive and relentless, sometimes following you after a polite “no gracias”, continuing to shout things like “Maybe later? Maybe tomorrow?”. We had people approach us while we were eating, and shove jewelry or bad paintings (but it’s on alpaca skin!) in our faces, literally in between bites, who would not go away until we both had said “No gracias!” at least twice. Worse still were the ones who would then send their child up to try to make a sale, or just to beg.
I don’t mean to sound hard-hearted, and I understand that people are trying to make a living, but after a certain point that kind of behavior hurts business for everyone. We got to the point where we were saying no before anyone asked, and choosing to eat indoors so as not to be approached as often.
Our hotel, the Sonesta Cusco, was in a good location. We were on Avenida del Sol across from the large Centro Artesanal Cusco, and next to the Parque Orellana Pumaqchupan. The “Puma Park” Is known for the colorful sun gate and water fall display at one end. You can enter the structure and walk behind the waterfall.
Walking up the street towards the Plaza de Armas, we pass the lovely Mural Wall.
The Plaza itself is really delightful, even though somewhat taken over by trendy shops and restaurants. It is the center of most celebrations and festivals held in the town. We happened to arrive during a week-long book festival, so there are some temporary canvas setups in our pictures you wouldn’t necessarily find if you visit. Still, it is hard not to be impressed with the views and the architecture.
Central to the Plaza is the Fountain and Statue of Pachacuti. Pachacuti was the ninth ruler of the Kingdom of Cusco and later the Emperor of the Inca Empire. Pachacuti began the expansion of the Inca dominion from the valley of Cusco to a big part of western South America, which eventually reached as far as Quito, Ibarra and beyond. Some say that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for him, but of course, no one really knows.
All in all, we found Cusco to be a city of incredible beauty, with excellent restaurants, interesting art and archaeological museums, and all of the souvenir shops you could possibly need. It is more than a tourist town of course – after all, it was once the capital of the Incan Empire – so there are also plenty of banks, pharmacies, medical centers, grocery stores, and even a very nice modern mall.
Too often, Cusco is just a jumping off point for a trip to Machu Picchu or some of the other sites in the region. Although the altitude (over 10,000 feet) does take some getting used to, Cusco is more than worthy destination all of its own. If you are planning a trip to Perú, do yourself a favor and schedule at least three or four days in this delightful (and delicious) town.