Cusco, Peru

After an epic journey, including an insanely windy night bus (all roads to and from Cuzco basically just wind around mountains for hours on end!) we arrived in historical, lively Cuzco.

Historic San Blas

We were staying in the bohemian district of San Blas in the North of the city, which is all old narrow cobbled streets built from ancient Inka walls, hippy guys selling crafts, and markets everywhere. We instantly loved it.

On our first day, we explored the city centre, with its stunning Plaza de Armas and cathedral, and square of second-floor balcony restaurants with terracotta roofs, and colonial white buildings as far as the eye can see. Despite being supertourismo, the city somehow maintains its pretty historical charm, and you forgive its endless tourist tat markets and shops, and photo-op indigenous ladies with llamas, for the fact that the city is built on so much history, and has such an easy charm to it. Great, affordable restaurants serving local food (as well as the standard inflated tourist traps), an amazing market called San Pedro which sells everything from cheap meals to clothes, to medicine and potions, and ancient ruins right in the city centre. All of these things, along with a lively and proud locale, give the city an air of authenticity (and help you blank out all the clearly very moneyed tourists who are just here for Machu Picchu!)

My 50p tourist shot with some indigenous ladies and their ´llama´… you can tell their hearts aren´t in it!

On our first day, we bumped into a load of old friends, within about half an hour of venturing out of our hostel! A cool American couple from our Salt Flats tour, the Belgians from Chile, and India! It was awesome to see so many familiar faces all at once. That was pretty much the highlight of the first day, because, post-night bus, we weren’t up to much, and after Sam took an Indian ‘all you can eat’ restaurant far too literally, he couldn’t really move to do anything for the rest of the day!

The second day we were far more active, and visited the Inka Museum, where we saw a ton of cool artefacts from various ruins around Cuzco, and saw a guy playing old Inkan instruments, and some indigenous weavers. We also went to the Choco Museum and learnt a little about chocolate production in South America, but mainly snaffled a lot of free chocolate and choco-creme boozy shots! That evening we’d been invited out to a reggae night by the Americans, but true to form, we got too drunk beforehand and passed out before making it out the door! I blame the altitude.

Indigenous outfits, mummies, weaving and Inka instruments at the Inka museum

The rest of our time in Cusco followed a similar pattern of markets, boozing, and eating at great places (including a guilty Gringo indulgence at an expat cafe called Jack’s… GARLIC MUSHROOM toasted sandwich with salami and cheese. Enough said.) Oh, and we spent an insane amount of time researching our independent Machu Picchu trek and trying to find the office to buy tickets from! They make it REALLY HARD to go it alone. After traipsing around dodgy corners of Cuzco looking for the ‘ministerio de cultura’ offices, we decided to just buy tickets on the door (so to speak) and spent the rest of our time just soaking up the city.

Local guinea pig, chowing down at Jack´s and bedroom drinking

You need this stupid ‘boleto touristico’ (tourist pass) to visit pretty much any of the ruins/churches in Cuzco but it costs like 35 quid each (more than Machu Picchu!) so we just scrimped and went to the few places you can pay to get in without one, like Qorikancha. Literally meaning ‘golden courtyard’, this is an ancient Inka ruin that used to be plated in gold before the damn Spanish looted it all. It had some pretty cool stonework, and we learnt some interesting theories about Inkan astronomy (by eavesdropping into the many English speaking tours going on)…. but all in all, it kind of taught us that we’re not really all that into ruins and/or archeology. Not a fashionable thing to say in Cuzco (or Peru for that matter), but there’s a limit to how excited I can get about really ancient stones. The stories are interesting, but a lot of it’s ‘interpretation’ at best (see Machu Picchu!) and, I don’t know if travel is dampening our brains, but after a couple of hours, we were pretty mind-numbed! There was a bonus Dali exhibition housed upstairs which was pretty cool though! See, I’m still kind of cultural…?!

Inside Qorikancha… yaaaawn

So that was pretty much our first sojourn in Cuzco. We also returned post-Machu Picchu and went for a fancy dinner at a posh Indian restaurant which was nice, albeit full of aniseed (my least favourite spice!).

On our last day we squeezed in a pretty cool alternative walking tour, where we hiked up to a super-high lookout, then took a bus to rural Cuzco to learn about alpaca and baby alpaca wool farming. Then we returned to town to visit an old local musician guy who played lots of mad instruments for us (including a guitar made out of an antelope… WTF), then we ended the tour being taught how to make pisco sours at a dive bar that looked out to the city. The barman was – in his own words – pretty high, which led to a hilarious presentation about where pisco comes from, but culminated in some delicious free cocktails! Success!

Pisco Sour making class

Baby alpaca wool farm