Since Machu Picchu turned out to be much more expensive than we anticipated, we tried to keep costs down as much as possible in order to keep our budget from hemorrhaging.
Things We Saw & Did in Cusco
Booked a Tour to the Amazon Jungle
One of the things that we knew we wanted to do when we visited South America was spend time in the Amazon jungle. While there are parts of the Amazon in Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru, we ultimately chose Peru as it was accessible by bus via paved roads. All of the other jungle locations required a flight or a much longer, much rougher ride on a bus.
We visited several different travel agencies and got pricing for a 4 day, 3 night tour. They were all in the same general ballpark so we went with Mery from Soncco Tours who sold us a package with Carlos Expeditions. We liked working with her and after doing some research, discovered that she sold the tour with the best reviews.
Took Pictures with Baby Llamas
In the touristy parts of Cusco, there are women dressed in native clothing who have both baby and full size llamas. They convince tourists to take their pictures with them and request donations in return.
I saw an absolutely adorable baby llama and desperately wanted my picture with it. Before I jumped in, I asked the ladies how much it would cost and they told me I could pay them whatever. Once we got our picture, I handed them a sol or 30 cents. The other woman said you paid her but not me, you need to give us 10 sols, 1 sol is nothing. For the most part I stood my ground, giving the other woman 1 sol as well. They trick you by getting in the picture with you then demanding money for taking their picture.
The next time I wanted a picture with a llama I learned my lesson. I saw a girl feeding a baby llama with a bottle and knew that I wanted to do it. I asked if I could take my picture with only the llama and they agreed. I gave them a sol in exchange and everyone seemed satisfied.
It looks hard to pronounce but is actually said the same as “sexy woman”. This ruin site is unique in that all of the stones are fit perfectly into each other with no need for any mortar in between.
Since it wasn’t too far from our hostel, we hiked 30 minutes up the hill to check it out. Once we arrived we were dumbfounded with the entry fee. For a foreigner it was 130 sols or just about $40 each. Since this is more than we typically spend for a night in a hostel, we found this absolutely ludicrous.
Since we planned to see Cristo Blanco on the way back to town, we skipped Saqsaywaman and headed over there.
Cristo Blanco translates to white Christ. It is a smaller scale statue of Christ the Redemer in Rio de Janero, Brazil. Our hike up to the statue, was very challenging in the high elevation of Cusco which is 11,151 feet, much higher than even Denver which is only 5,280 feet.
We snapped a few pictures with the statue as well as some pictures of the city since there was a great panoramic view. It was here that we noticed another entrance for Saqsaywaman was very close nearby. It appeared that we may be able to see one of the outer walls without paying the admission fee. As we walked closer, we realized that it was possible.
We set up the tripod and got some great pictures of Saqsaywaman. It was almost better than going inside the ruins as we didn’t have anyone in our shots and inside the ruins it looked quite crowded.
Secured a Bolivian Visa
Since our attempts at getting our Bolivian visa in Lima did not work, we tried again in Cusco. When we arrived, there was a sign on the door detailing out everything that was needed to get a visa and stated if you did not have it, do not ring the bell. Even though we didn’t have everything we rang the bell, needing to get a few questions answered before we could finalize everything.
What we needed to get our visa:
- Original and copy of our passports
- Original and copy of our yellow fever vaccination
- Copy of a credit card
- Printout of hotel accommodations
- Proof of exit – our flight from Brazil to South Africa sufficed
- $160 per visa transferred to the Bolivian Embassy’s bank account
You wouldn’t think it would be hard to get all of these requirements completed but finding a place where we could print from a computer required visiting around 10 stores and took us 40 minutes.
When we arrived with all of our paperwork, the man at the consulate was extremely friendly. He was excited for us to visit Bolivia and gave us suggestions of what to see beyond the salt flats, the main tourist attraction in the country. Getting the visa only took about 15 minutes. We now have a visa which is valid for 5 years.
It is extremely difficult to get visas to some places and it makes you wonder why the government of a poor country would make you jump through all these hoops. The answer is because the US has the same, very strict requirements to attain a visa for Bolivians to visit the US. The government’s stance is if you are going to do this to our people, we will do this to yours. It’s all a political mess and sad that travelers are stuck in the middle.
Visited Centro Artesanal Cusco
Every city that we visit, we purchase a key chain which we re-purpose into a Christmas ornament. Since we like to have a lot of choices before we commit, we decided to head to a large artesanal market. There were a lot of choices, but we settled on a cute handmade hat that said Cusco on it.
In addition to the key chain, we were also on the lookout for a hat for Andy. I had purchased one in Lima but knew that we needed to get Andy one before our visit to the salt flats of Bolivia. Everyone that we talk to who has done the tour talks about how cold is is and we wanted to be prepared. We found a steal of a hat for 8 sols or $2.40. Not too shabby considering it is a hand knit, reversible hat.
Ate Local Food
Since Cusco is a very touristy town, meals were quite a bit more expensive than other parts of Peru that we visited. With a little due diligence, we were able to find inexpensive food – typically the meal of the day. It consists of a bowl of soup, main dish and sometimes a drink. The bowls of soup are usually massive and make the soup lover in me very happy.
There are 2 specialties in Cusco that I didn’t have the heart to eat – cuy and llama. Cuy is the Spanish term for guinea pig. Since I had guinea pigs as pets growing up, there is absolutely no way that I could eat that. Another specialty is alpaca, but after seeing them on the streets, it was impossible to consider eating them.
Got Andy’s Hair Cut
Since Andy hadn’t gotten a haircut since Panama City, it was getting to be time to get another haircut. I also reminded him that we were heading to Bolivia next and it may not be quite as easy to get a good haircut there.
We asked the hostel where there were places to get haircuts as we had not seen any when we were walking around the city. They gave us directions and we headed to the salon.
We thought we communicated well what we were looking for but the woman who cut Andy’s hair didn’t quite understand. She cut Andy’s hair much shorter on the top of his head than usual. At the end of the day this actually worked out well. Andy actually prefers his new shorter hairdo better than his typical cut (for this trip anyway).
The price for a haircut was 10 sols or $3. This included both the haircut and afterwards a very awkward electric back massage.
Plaza de Armas
Every city in South America has a Plaza del Armas. It is usually located right in the middle of the historic city center. We wandered around taking in the scenery and snapping a few pictures of Compania de Jesus and getting a picture together in front of the Catedral.
Santo Domingo (Qurikancha)
When we read what to do in Cusco, Santo Domingo came up. I read that it was an old fort that was turned into a cathedral. It sounded very interesting but when we went to take a look, we noticed that the entry was 15 sols or $4.50 per person. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, this is what a dinner would cost us. We opted to skip going inside, just taking a few pictures outside instead.
On our way to the bus station to purchase our bus tickets to Puerto Maldonado, we saw Monumento Pachacuteq. While you can climb up it, we both agreed that the view wouldn’t have been very spectacular as all that you would see is the traffic circle below. We took a quick picture and carried on.
We were really fortunate to have good weather in Cusco when we were there. While it was a little cool, we had blue skies and puffy white clouds every day. After we returned from the Amazon we learned that when we were gone the weather was absolutely horrible with rain every day and very cold temperatures.
I wanted to like Cusco more than I did. I have had many friends visit and say nothing but nice things about it. While I did enjoy it, the fact that everything was so much more expensive than other parts of Peru definitely bothered me. It is like the prices have all been inflated to the prices of more western countries as tourists are willing to pay more.
I was worried about the elevation, even picking up altitude sickness medication just in case we had any issues. Luckily our only issues were getting winded very easily. Cusco is built on the hillside so parts of the city have quite a few hills and steps, making getting around a little bit more challenging.
We saw everything that we wanted to see in the city but after we arrived in Ollantaytambo, the city we visited after Cusco, we wished that we had spent a little less time in Cusco and had more time in Ollantaytambo. It is still on the tourist grid but is a much smaller town, something that we seem to enjoy quite a bit more.