We landed in Cusco, Peru on Christmas Day. Our Airbnb wasn’t located too far from the airport and luckily, our host organized a taxi ride for us. This is the 2nd time I have spent Christmas away from home (California). We spent Christmas Day at Orion Supermarket, a chain of supermarkets in Peru. It was such an authentic experience, shopping with the locals and not being able to read any of the food labels. We were way too tired to do much else but it was truly a Christmas to remember!
We spent the next week exploring Cusco. We visited Colombia for our honeymoon and since that trip, we became enthralled with South America. It was so great to be back! Cusco is an amazing city, filled with kind locals and food for all types of palettes. Most people will start their exploration in Plaza De Armas in the historic center. When we got out of the taxi in the Plaza, I was stunned. I had no idea in my head what Cusco would be like but the cathedrals in the Plaza are absolutely breathtaking. My favorite part of the historic center? The women who dress in traditional wear and hang out with their baby llamas or alpacas. YES, I know they do this for money but when you are walking the streets of Cusco, it really sets the scene. You can’t help but be drawn to their bright attire. How often do you see a llama in a city?
The #1 attraction you cannot miss in Cusco? San Pedro Market. We loved it SO much that we visited it twice. The 2nd time we visited, it was on New Years Eve and it was packed with locals getting ready for the festive holiday. The market is huge and it is divided into sections (cheese, meat, juice, flowers, etc). I absolutely love visiting markets in every city that I visit. They are always a hub for the locals and they help me to get a real feel of the city. If you are a photographer like myself, this market will be a dream. Everywhere you look, there is a scene or a pop of color or a hanging pig head wearing “2018” glasses (true story!)
Since we had a whole week to spend in Cusco, we made sure to visit the much talked about San Blas neighborhood. From Plaza De Armas, you simply walk UP, UP AND UP stairs till you reach the San Blas Plaza. It is a bit of a walk so take breaks because the elevation is so high in Cusco. The San Blas neighborhood is great for strolling around. There are a few restaurants up there and a small church, as well as a Coca Museum. I would recommend eating at Jack’s Cafe in San Blas. Cusco is full of chicken, rice and potatoes so it was a nice change to eat some pancakes and French toast. You will find many local women with llamas in San Blas, asking for money in exchange for photos. Again, do it! We opted not to hold or touch the animals but you are welcome too!
We had a free day without any plans so we googled and found out about Sacsayhuaman. It is an Incan citadel on the edge of Cusco. We ended up spending the whole day there and we managed to explore every inch of this place. It is truly incredible. You will find giant walls made of the biggest stones you can imagine. It was crazy to think about how the Incans constructed such a citadel way back when. From Sacsayhuaman, you can see the Christ the Redeemer on another hill. There is even a walking path to this site. After gawking at the wild alpacas that live there, we decided to walk back to town. Now, it is quite a walk but entirely doable. Actually, it turned out to be the most exciting thing I did in Cusco! You descend from the mountain and follow a road down to Plaza De Armas. From Sacsayhuaman, it seems like the Plaza is light years away but slowly, we made our way down, passing llamas and a stunning church. Once we made it to the Plaza, we felt so accomplished! We managed to end up in the Plaza at the exact time that an organized protest was going on against the ex Peruvian president. This protest was GIANT but both the people and the police worked together to make it peaceful.
Cusco is a great city to visit and I would highly recommend visiting in time for New Years Eve. In fact, it should be mandatory for everyone to experience Cusco for this holiday. We opted not to celebrate in Plaza De Armas but instead, celebrate at our Airbnb. I am SO HAPPY we did because it had a balcony with a excellent view. At midnight, in every direction, fireworks were set off for 20 minutes straight. I have never seen such a sight before. It left us in awe and I don’t think I will ever forget that night.
I have a few tips and suggestions for Cusco:
- If you are afraid of dogs, this is not the city for you. They roam freely everywhere. In fact, when we were shopping at the supermarket, a giant dog ran through the aisles and surprised me! Now, the dogs are very calm and friendly. They don’t even bark too much but they are around all the time.
- The taxis are cheap and the drivers are incredibly friendly. We did not have an issue with any taxi driver our entire time in the city, You simply flag one down, tell him your location and agree on a price before getting into the car. Then, off you go! They will try to make small talk with you but they rarely spoke English and our Spanish is scarce.
- We had TERRIBLE phone service upon arrival in Cusco. T-Mobile allows us to text and use data in Cusco but it didn’t work at all. We could really only do stuff on WiFi but even that was awful at our Airbnb. We made it work but if you are coming for business or you absolutely need phone service, consider buying a local Sim card.
- The local people are kind and they will try to help you as much as possible. Do not be afraid to approach anyone!
- Most people do not speak English unless you are in a restaurant or near a major site. It is best to know basic Spanish words so that you can get around efficiently as possible.
- Be ready to walk UPHILL always. Cusco is a giant hill and there are stairs everywhere. When you get to the city center, look up! There are houses for as far as you can see up the mountains.
- There are all types of food in Cusco, even vegan restaurants.
- Visit Plaza Real if you need to visit a giant supermarket and a mall. We didn’t find out about this place until the end of our trip but I wish we had known about it immediately. The supermarket here is like a Wal-Mart!
Visit Cusco and spend a good amount of time here. A lot of people just pass through to Machu Picchu but it was so great that we spent a week there! The city is absolutely beautiful.