If you are going to Cuzco...

by - Monday, April 15, 2013

I am going to start writing a series of blogs of travel advice. I am no travel expert, but we have been a lot of places and I think I know the kind of things people wonder about before they go on a trip. Hopefully, this is helpful to somebody. 

Cuzco is the city you will fly into if you are going to Machu Picchu. The Big Inca Spectacular is still a two hour train ride through the mountains away, but if you are going there, you should still spend at least 24 hours in Cuzco getting acclimated to the elevation (we didn't have a lot of nausea, but we did nap the hell out of that first day). Also, trying the food. We had no idea before we went, but Peru is a spectacular food country. We didn't have any crazy expensive meals, but it was all amazing. 

Anyway, more on that later. I will write a separate post on Aguas Calientes (the small town outside of Machu Picchu), but I highly recommend a 48 hour stay at the least in this town, because there are so many oppurtunities to see Incan architecture and to see how the old traditions fused with the new Spanish traditions.

Where to Stay-

We stayed at the Hotel Rumi Punku (which means stone door... after the original Inca door that is still there) which was great The staff was very friendly. For the first part of the trip (but not our final night back after Machu Picchu), we shelled out an extra 25 bucks a night for the deluxe room. Basically, this was a top floor room with an amazing view out to the city and mountains. It was definitely worth it, because that first day of altitude sickness and jet lag was so amazing, because every time we woke up, it was to such an awesome view. Since we only stayed here, I can't speak to anywhere else, but I would recommend staying somewhere very close to the Plaza del Armas, because then you can enjoy the city on foot.

Where to Eat- 

 Peruvian food is getting a great reputation for a reason. In Lima or on the coast, it is important to try the ceviche/ seafood type fare, but up in the mountains is a whole different game. The restaurants in Cuzco have a ton of variety, with some great fusion places if you get sick of eating Lomo Saltado every night. Because of the exchange rate, even the fancypants places are really affordable, so I encourage you to go all out on eating. The best places in the world have amazing old stuff and great cheap food. Peru is definitely one of those places, so take advantage of both things!

Jack's Cafe- Great brunch-y food and light soups for when you are first getting acclimated and don't want anything heavy. It is owned by an Australian couple, so the fare is a break from straight Peruvian food, if you need it.

Inka Fe Cafe- We never had food here, but this cafe has awesome cake, the best vanilla ice cream I ever ate in my whole life (no joke), and constantly plays Shania Twain music. Winner all around.

 Fallen Angel- This is perhaps the best restaurant we have ever been to in our lives. The restaurant is Francisco Pizarro's old house, made into a campy part time gay dance club. I would like to think that Pizarro would have loved it. We sat on a leopard print daybed and ate our food off of a bathtub filled with goldfish with a glass plate on top. Also, the food is some twisted Peruvian fare that is insanely delicious. This was our appetizer, which was shrimp on top of potato cake type things with prosciutto and micro greens and some sort of spicy sauce. We still talk about it some times. Then I had "Quinotto" (Quinoa cooked Risotto style) for my meal. If you only get one dinner in Cuzco, I would highly recommend going here. 

Pacha Papa's- You need to brave the steps at least once to try Pacha Papa's. This restaurant is right across the street from the church. First, you can get awesome corn salad (Peru is known for its corn). They have a huge Iron oven, and you can watch them cook your whole meals in a single pot. It is delicious, and it is fun and pleasant to eat in their outside plaza.

On the Plaza del Armas- Inca Grill is supposed to be the best, but we weren't that blown away. Try one of the restaurants on the second floor and you will get a great view!

What to Try- 

 First of all, drink Coca Tea. You can brag that you drank Cocaine, and it helps so much with the altitude sickness.

Chicha- It's purple Peruvian corn beer. You can get it almost anywhere, but there is a large market near the Plaza del Armas where you can get the really legit stuff, if you are the kind of people who really want the most legit experience possible.

 Guinea Pig- Yep, I'm not kidding. Guinea pig is the delicacy in Peru, so you need to try it at least once. We had it on sweet potatoes and avocado. I don't remember it tasting much like anything, but it was pretty good. We tried it a Ciccolina, which is a Peruvian/Mediteranean fusion place.

 Where to Go-

 The Plaza del Armas- This is the center of Cuzco (the Boy called it tourist central) with plenty of museums and churches nearby to explore. It is incredibly pretty, but it is also great for people watching. Also, because the city is in the mountains, you can see it stretching in every direction around you. It also looks amazing at night.

Head out to the Sacred Valley- Most of the hotels will help you set up a tour to travel through the Sacred Valley. Be warned, these tours often travel through some major tourist traps, some of which are more ethical than others. We went somewhere where we could watch them weave, but it seemed to be owned by some European conglomerate. If something seems fishy, it probably is. On the other hand, one of these tours gives you a better look out into how the rural Peruvians live, and you get to see the beautiful landscape. 

Ollantaytambo- This is a less famous big Incan ruin, but it is actually pretty cool as well, because it is moving up a mountain rather than being on top of it. It is definitely a cool place to go to get your first big taste of Incan culture and running themes in the architecture. It also kind of dethrones the vision of the Incas as all being up in the mountains, since this city kind of fills out into the valley. It also has more carvings (like the Andean cross) and communication devices left. 

Qoricancha- This place is amazing. If you only have time to do 1 thing, I would recommend this monastary (Santo Domingo) built directly on top of an Inkan temple (of the Sun).  In the 50's, an earthquake freed up some stucco and revealed that the walls of the church were Inka walls. It's amazing to see all of these influences stuffed into a small space, and there is actually a contemporary art exhibition space upstairs. Amazing and wonderfully weird. All of Cuzco can be sort of summed up in the experience of this building.

What to Do-

Explore- there are about a million little corners of Cuzco, so it is a really great city to just get lost in. Go up the stairs to Santa Blas. The further up you go, the better your view of the city. Just walk around and see what there is to see.

Check out the museums- Cuzco has a lot of cool museums, some of which are much stranger than others. I would suggest the Regional History Museum which exibits art works that display the strange fusion between Incan and Spanish Catholic imagery (my favorite of these was a Last supper where they ate guinea pig and drank Chicha). It becomes clear what a struggle this area has gone through politically and spiritually. The Inkan royalty were killed off, but the majority of the Inkas actually remained, so most of the Peruvians living in the area actually have a complicated geneological history. For this reason, many of the museums have strange and ambivalent relationships to the history of the people.

The Inka Museum, which doesn't allow pictures, is really bizarre. They store mummies of Inkas in the museum, posed into scenes. Just crazypants.

On the other hand, there are a few really crappy museums (the MAP- Museum of Arts Precolumbio- comes to mind as the absolute worst) which are clearly motivated by other things, and who try to profit off of some misinformed sense of "primitivism." this stuff is icky, but there are plenty of other great options.

Chat with Locals- I think this is easier said than done, but people in Cuzco are incredibly friendly, open, and used to tourists. They all also have great stories to tell.

You May Also Like