Cusco: A Peruvian Gem

I hate to admit it but Peru was merely an after thought; a quick stop on our trip for the sole purpose of reducing airfare costs. Boy was I ill informed!

We arrived in Lima, Peru on April 16th and spent a night in Miraflores (the safer part of town) before catching our flight to Cusco the next day. The town was nice, especially the coastline but like Santiago, it is quite developed and westernized. I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time here. However just a short flight away, surrounded by the Andes is the incredible town of Cusco.

Our first day in Cusco we braved the risk of altitude sickness and went out into the city to explore. Cusco is a fresh breath of air when it comes to authentic culture. The streets are lined with gorgeous post-colonial Spanish style buildings and traditional Peruvian food can be found on every corner. Cusco was the site of the Incan Empire and many aspects of the ancient are still ingrained in this marvelous city. I’m a huge history buff, so knowing that I was walking on the same grounds as the Incan was a pretty indescribable feeling.

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We stayed in Cusco for about 5 days before leaving for Machu Pichuu and 4 days after, so we were able to see all that the city had to offer. One of our favorite things to do each morning was walk a few blocks to the San Blas market for breakfast. Maria was the cook of our favorite “kitchen” and prepared us fried egg sandwiches, quinoa and apples, and a never ending supply of smiles; all for under 4 bucks! Next to Maria was a row of smoothie ladies who blended an assorted variety of fresh fruit with fresh squeezed orange juice in to a frothy delicious drink. What a great way to start your day, right?

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Aside from the scrumptious and economical food, Cusco has some great sites to explore. Just above the city is the statue of Christo Blanco and the Saksaywaman Ruins. From these raised locations you also see the purposeful Puma shape of the city below. We were lucky enough to be in Cusco during Holy Week and witnessed numerous successions and fiestas in the name of Catholicism.

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If you want to venture outside the city you have numerous options. Cusco is surrounded by the Sacred Valley, which includes quaint little towns like Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Both of these towns offer great options for souvenier shopping and the Pisac Market is a must-see on Sundays. For us however we wanted a little action so we headed to the Urumba River for some rafting. It was pretty spectacular to raft through the Andes and the class 3 rapids were exciting enough to keep me entertained but mellow enough to allow the scenery to be the center of attention. We booked our trip with Activities Peru (http://www.activitiesperu.com) and highly recommend them!

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Cusco was by far our favorite city and I highly recommend spending atleast a week here! Not only will you be surrounded by rich Peruvian culture but you will also be able to stick to your humble budget. Hostels cost about $8 per night (including breakfast) and food is VERY inexpensive. Expect to pay $3-4 for an entire meal and don’t be afraid to try to street food!

Cusco, you will always have a little spot in my heart!

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