Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Cuzco is a town for tourists
This city of some 350,000 people is best known as the archaeological capital of the Americas. The name is intertwined with its nearby tourism dominator Machu Picchu. A quick look around the central Plaza de Armas (central park) and you’ll see the partly hidden McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks and countless other travel agents and restaurants. To be honest it really is just a bit off putting when this is what you walk into. We really don’t tend to enjoy places like this simply because it creates a particular type of attitude with locals and the hordes of tourists are simply annoying at the end of the day. We would end up spending about 10 days in and out of Cuzco and that was about all we had tolerance for.
Cheap accommodation can be found
We found a place called Hospedaje Santa Isabel about a 10 minute walk up (5 minute walk down) from Plaza de Armas for 30 soles ($10.70) a night including hot water, wifi and only 4 rooms in total. It’s at the corner of Pumacurco and Huaynapata. We would later find out it is about 1 block away from some of the most luxurious hotels in the city. The only downside is that there was rarely any staff members around from lunchtime onwards. There were also hardly any other guests or traffic so the place was near enough to silent most of the time.
Bring your walking shoes
The city is fairly safe due to tourist police but the hills can take their toll on your energy levels, so take it easy in your first couple of days. The Plaza de Armas is a good central reference point with nearby Plaza San Francisco and San Pedro market for some cheap set menu lunches.
We did do a free walking tour (pay what you want by tip) that had been recommended to us. We found it a little slow moving and lacking any more information than a Lonely Planet or Wikipedia might have given you. The guide seemed more excited in selling the virtues of the bar you end the tour at and its daily deals on Pisco Sours which you get to sample as part of the tour.
Pisac and Pisac Ruins
We decided we should visit some more ruins in the Sacred Valley and split it over 2 days with a 2 day Boleto Turitico (70 soles / $25) each. This gives access to Pisac, Moray, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. The combi to Pisac was only 3 soles ($1) each but then getting up to the ruins is the hard part. We bargained for 22 soles ($7.80) for a taxi and then walked through the site and back down to Pisac. You can opt to walk up, but this is a good hour or two plus the walk down again. We were down from the start point in about 2.5 hours.
The site itself is quite large and has some very big terraces. Make sure to climb to the accessible viewing points to get panoramic views of the area.
One day to do it all – ruined out
With only 1 day left on our ticket we knew it was a long day ahead. We set out early getting into our first combi (7 soles / $2.50 each) to the Moray turnoff before 7.30am and arriving just after 8.30am. This is where negotiation powers are absolutely necessary. The only fast way to get to Moray and Salineras is by taxi and they all wait there knowing it. Arrange your deal before setting out. We paid 16 soles ($5.70) each for 5 passengers in an unmarked taxi a total of 80 soles. Rumours seem to be you can get it down to maybe 10 soles each but that might be a slightly old number now. Also negotiate how long you’ll get at each site, around 40 minutes at each plus travel time should take about 2.5 hours in total and is enough to do what you need.
This place was rumoured to be an agricultural test centre. The terraces are quite impressive, but you’re best to hike straight to the bottom to appreciate the size of the place and slowly walk back up.
Next on the list but with an additional entry of 7 soles ($2.50) each was Salineras. This place really must be seen to be believed. It is quite spectacular. There are hundreds of salt pools of varying colours where they harvest it and sell it. This can be anything from table salt for food to healing salts you put in a bath. The photos don’t really show the scale of it all. You can seemingly walk just about anywhere, but most tourists stay on the top edge and walk across until they’re bored or need a drink.
Getting to Ollantaytambo is easy, but be willing to bargain on price. It should be 1.5 soles to Urumbamba and a further 1.5 soles to Ollantaytambo. Our first quote by a tourist bus was 20 soles each all the way. Keeping count? That’s $6 more each for a roughly 1 hour trip.
When you arrive at the town square of Ollantaytambo, be sure to look up and you’ll see the terrace of the ruins. The ruins are well maintained but there are a lot of tourists around especially when we arrived near midday. We were in and out in under 1.5 hours and back on a combi to Cuzco to 10 soles ($3.60) each.
We had decided to skip Chinchero as we had simply had enough of seeing ruins. We also wanted to get a night bus to Arequipa that night and getting back to Cuzco earlier gave us more flexibility including finding a cheap dinner on the way to the bus station.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/