25 Nov Captivated by a Lovely Colonial Town, Cusco
Cusco is the starting point for your once in a lifetime Machu Picchu pilgrimage. You wouldn’t really think of staying in this town longer than one night, but I think it’s worth staying a few days more, schedule permitting. I was captivated by this lovely colonial town surrounded by mountains. I only stayed for two weeks but definitely could’ve stayed a few more months, maybe continue my Spanish lessons there next time. So pack up your hiking boots and thermal clothing, you’ll need them there especially at night when everything seems just more magical.
Here are 6 reasons to stay in Cusco a lot longer than you planned:
#1 Find a cozy place to stay
I found refuge in the female dorm room of Pariwana Hostel, just a few steps away from the bustling Plaza de Armas. This place has it all, from its own restaurant that serves comfort food, a large communal kitchen, a satellite TV room, desktop computers with fast internet and lots of spaces for chillin’. They also have a tour desk that answers all your questions and organizes activities or tours to other sacred sites around Cusco. Prices are quite competitive so I booked my Machu Picchu tour with them.
Check out EcoPackers, also right in town’s center. Offers a friendly atmosphere and spacious shared bathrooms. The restaurant serves a wide menu, but my favorite must be the fireplace in the TV room. The newer Supertramp Hostel is in a more secluded location and boasts of an awesome view. It looks like an old fortress from the outside but the rooms have a modern industrial feel to them. The kind taxi driver and I spent half-an hour walking around the hill just looking for this place. So if you are arriving at night, make sure to contact the hostel for clear directions.
#2 Indulge at the Choco Museo
Have a cup of delicious hot chocolate or sign up for a 2-hour workshop on how to prepare it from its raw form. My Brazilian friend, Melina and I had a crêpe dipped in chocolate sauce. Cacao beans were brought to Europe by the Spaniards in the 15th century and continues to be one of Peru’s most valuable exports. Peruvians are always finding ingenious ways to prepare this superfood, sharing their knowledge to the rest of the world.
Another restaurant I absolutely loved was Jack’s Cafe. Get in line because the don’t take reservations, first come first serve basis only. I had to sit at the bar but I didn’t mind because of their the Creamy Garlic Mushroom on Thick Toast. Absolutely divine, I had to recreate it for dinner tonight.
Also worth checking out are the other museums in the area: Museo Inka, Museo de Arte Popular and Museo de Arte Religioso and Museo de la Coca, don’t ask me what that is.
#3 Shop at Mercado de San Pedro
Go crazy shopping for souvenirs in this huge local market. You’ll find everything from colorful clothes, textiles with ethnic patterns, journals/photo albums of all sizes, iconic keychains, bags, pursues, food products and basically everything you want to take home from Peru. Prices start at $1 USD and bargaining politely starting from half-price is possible.
Find the row of Jugos de Frutas where Peruvian ladies prepare smoothies made out of a variety of local fruits. Try a glass of zanahoria con naranja (carrot and orange) to boost your immune system in cold weather or maybe a more exotic combination like pomelo con sabila (pomelo with aloe vera), perhaps?
#4 Hike up to Mirador de San Blas
Reserve a whole day just to explore this gorgeous city. It’s easy to get pleasurably lost in Cusco’s pebble stoned winding pathways, which is how I stumbled upon the road leading to this viewpoint. Though there are droves of tourists in the center, quieter places up in the valleys do exist. At some point, I felt like I traveled back in time walking up and down these narrow paths on my own. Easiest way to reach it is to download an app called Maps.me on your smartphone to get there faster.
Find these little bookstores that sell interesting rare books about Peru, the Amazon, Machu Picchu’s History, Sacred Valley and Ayahuasca. Most of them sell new and used books, Spanish and English versions.
#5 Discover the rest of the Sacred Valley
El Valle Sagrado de los Incas, the heartland of the Inca empire encompasses everything from Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, Calca, Lamay and Písac. The mighty Río Urubamba flows right along these picturesque towns, rich in history and tradition. This sacred area is blessed with the prefect atmosphere and soil to grow vegetables and other kinds of produce. I would easily spend another month there if I go back to Peru.
#6 Discover the healing benefits of Ahayuasca (but read the small print)
Many of the travelers I met in Peru were there for only one thing: to get high on Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a sacred brew, containing a naturally occurring drug called DMT. It was traditionally used as a spiritual medicine during ceremonies performed by the indigenous communities of the Amazon.
Unfortunately, it has become a trend in the tourist industry and has made its way from the jungle to yoga retreats and even all-weekend long rave parties. Walk the streets of Cusco and you will find a few people dressed up as Shamans giving out flyers for daily ceremonies. So be informed before you even think of participating in one. Read books, websites and watch documentaries on this dangerous drug before you decide to take a shortcut on enlightenment. Wrong consumption and overdosage have caused many health issues and even deaths in the recent years, so I would personally strongly advice against it, especially if you have to pay for it. As the old Spanish saying goes, what is sacred does not have a price.