Cusco Basics

Cusco is one of my favorite cities in the world. I visited for a short time in 2009 and decided to go back for an extended stay in 2014. There is so much to explore in the city and in the surrounding area that even a week might not be enough. It is the hub for visitors to the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu. I also noticed a huge change from the first time I visited – the amount of great restaurants that have popped up in Cusco.

Getting to Cusco is done by air or by bus. By bus, it is very easy to arrive from Arequipa (10 hours), Puno (8 hours), and La Paz (12 hours). From Lima, you are looking at a very long and bumpy 22 hour ride.

Terminal Terrestre, the bus terminal in Cusco, is located near the city center. It is loud and full of action. When you arrive, there will be several unmarked cars offering rides. They are safe enough to trust, but ask about the price before getting in the car. Getting to and from the city center should only cost S/10.

You can easily find overnight buses at the ticket counters. You can also buy the tickets ahead of time from agencies in Cusco city center. Before leaving the terminal to board your bus, you have to pay a small tax at a window located in the center of the terminal. They will put a sticker on the back of your ticket which you have to show in order to enter the boarding area.

Fountain in the center of Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Fountain in the center of Plaza de Armas

Cusco’s airport is also located near the city center. Again, upon arrival you will be approached by several taxi drivers in marked and unmarked cars. I used an unmarked car and was quoted US$10. I didn’t know what the price was and thought it was fair, but don’t trust this price. Like the bus terminal, cab ride should only cost S/10 to and from the city center.

Most flights in and out of the airport are to Lima, but it also serves Arequipa, La Paz, Puerto Maldonado, and Juliaca. I have flown in and out on LAN Perú and Star Perú. My flight out on Star Perú, a budget airline, was cancelled because they forgot to schedule a plane (yes, I’m serious). They ended up putting me in a hotel overnight and getting me out on a flight early the next morning, which also happened to be delayed an hour. They also failed to tell me the correct time for the free shuttle they provided in the morning so I’m very lucky it was delayed.

I’ve stayed in three hotels in Cusco and an Airbnb. The Airbnb didn’t work out too well – it was full of mold, so I moved to a budget hotel called Hospedaje Pumacurco. It’s hidden in an alley near a few hostels and run by a very sweet old lady who makes guests feel at home. Rooms are small and spartan but include a toilet and shower. I paid an extremely cheap S/25 for a single. The location is excellent. It’s best to call ahead of time to ask for availability. The number is +51 84 243347. She speaks very little English but enough to communicate a booking.

On my very first trip to the city in 2009, I stayed at Hotel de la Villa Hermoza. It’s a budget hotel that worked out well. It was clean and the room was pretty big.

Another hotel I stayed at was the Eco Inn. I was put up here when my Star Perú flight was cancelled. It’s a very nice hotel, comfortable, and there is a restaurant with ok food, but the wifi signal was horrible. It’s overpriced and I think there are better places to stay if you are going to pay their standard rate of $120 a night.

Eco Inn in Cusco, Peru

Eco Inn

Getting around Cusco is easily done on foot. It’s safe in all of the touristy areas of the city. There’s no reason to wander outside of the city center to begin with.

Nightlife in Cusco is excellent. There are lots of bars and clubs to choose from. For clubs, you are guaranteed to have a good time at Mama Africa and Mythology. They are frequented by both tourists and locals. Music is good, drinks are reasonably priced, and the crowds are very outgoing.

One thing that can’t be avoided is the women around Plaza de Armas stopping you and saying “masaje, massage”. They offer very cheap massages which might seem a little shady, but apparently they are legit. I never tried one off the street, but I did visit Samana Spa. I had a three hour treatment called the Inka Trail Relief for S/220. It included one hour in a steam sauna and dry sauna, one hour deep tissue massage, and one hour in a jacuzzi. The masseuse did a great job and I was extremely relaxed and happy after this experience.

An important issue to most travelers is altitude sickness. Many people come to Cusco and get sick, many others are not affected at all. If you plan to come to Cusco and are worried about altitude sickness, you can purchase pills from your pharmacy ahead of your visit. If your schedule allows, you can also try gradually working your way up to Cusco. Most importantly, take it easy while walking. There is a reason why locals walk so slowly. You don’t want to exert too much energy, especially walking uphill – it is very easy to get out of breath! If you do find yourself with symptoms of altitude sickness, see a doctor or move to a lower altitude immediately.

And a final note: There are several laundry services in Cusco. DO NOT use the service at 320 Choquechaca. They stole three of my most expensive shirts – a long-sleeved Nike dri-fit and two  football jerseys from the Middle East. The owner told me to “check your backpack” but I literally gave them ALL of my clothes to wash because I was down to nothing.

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