If you’re in – or planning a trip to – Peru, it could be considered a “traveling sacrilege” not spending (at the very least) a couple of days in Cuzco. Much more than just a check-point on the way to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, Cuzco is a living, breathing History lesson on its own. It is, to this day, one of the cities where I most enjoyed walking around, and getting occasionally lost. The narrow streets, the colors of some hidden markets, the stone-pavements, the architecture, the people, the street snacks, the local commerce… it fascinated me. Plus, you might consider going for one or more of the nice “Inca hikes” nearby (like Saqsayhuamán, for example).
There are several ATMs at your disposal, a central tourist office, a lot of bars and restaurants (in the center, mostly for tourists), so basic services are provided. Whenever I wanted to go some place I’d heard about, I’d ask a policeman/policewoman and they were always helpful. Don’t mind the few guys selling drugs on the main Plaza de Armas and surrounding streets, especially at night. That’s just business as usual, and no reason to be scared at all. Eventually, you can also end up discussing the weather with an old man trying to make a living selling typical Peruvian hats (I did discuss the weather with him, and since we both agreed it would be cold at night, I got myself a hat). There’s a lot of bars around the Plaza de Armas, but I mostly remember a nice one on the left corner of the plaza when you’re facing the cathedral. The name is “Mama Africa“, and they had a “2 for 1” promotion when I went there with the Polish crew I had met in Ecuador (cheers, Asia, Diana & Kuba!) – we’d stayed in touch and decided to go to Machu Picchu together. But you have to get your two drinks at the same time there… which, looking on the bright side, can be fun. Oh, and the Polish showed me a great place to have a big dose of tasty chicken and all-you-can-eat salad, for 6 soles if I recall, close to the Plaza de Armas.
Regarding a place to stay, I crashed at the “Huiñariy Bed & Breakfast” (photo here, thanks to the Flickr user) in Calle Saphi, 789 (five minutes walk from the Plaza de Armas, 14 soles = 3,5 euros per night in dormitory, a more or less all-you-can-eat breakfast included, Internet included – only one computer at the hostel, but right next door you find a “cyber” – and a fun, helpful staff – if you go there send my regards to César and tell him that I couldn’t find the secret entrance to Machu Picchu). You can also use the hostel kitchen to cook your meals, which for me is always a winning feature if you’re planning to stay more than 3 days somewhere.
Close to the Huiñariy, on the same side of the road and to your right when you exit, there’s a small shop with an old lady selling groceries and stuff (there is in fact another one across the street). If you usually buy snacks to eat during long bus rides, I recommend you go there and spend 4 soles on some breads and half-a-cheese (quite big). The adventures of these buns and half-cheese culminated when I met the traveler María Varela (from the “Ser Viajera” blogs) – a simple tale that might be told one of these days.
Oh – as for the street snacks topic, I recommend you my all-time Peruvian favorite: choclo con queso. And the best one I had was outside the terminal in Cuzco.
So it’s all just the way they wrote it on the mountain: VIVA EL PERÚ.
For information about a popular-but-always-useful-to-mention budget-traveling alternative to get to Machu Picchu, with as many details (such as prices) possible, click here.