Cusco, Peru (+ Machu Picchu)

  • March 01, 2020

we spent 3 days in Cusco, Peru. 

we organized our trip around a 1 day visit to Machu Picchu but now we wish we would have booked Cusco for longer. we ignorantly didn't think of Cusco as a destination but merely a stopping location to make our trip to Machu Picchu more convenient.

this will be a shorter post since we didn't get a chance to explore Cusco as much as we wanted. 

the city

Cusco is very clean and friendly. the city's main source of income is tourism and locals frequently approach foreigners to sell wares (clothing, art, massage, etc.). in fact, the city seems to have created a "brand" that screamed hipster backpacker and yoga-y. restaurants advertising vegan and organic options, cafes built inside gardens with communal seating, general warnings against plastic use, and Patagonia sweaters everywhere.

it's also a very safe city. violence and crime against tourists are frowned upon since most locals (both individuals and busineses) rely on continued tourism. nearly everyone speaks English.

cobblestone streets sprawl in all directions, making it difficult to navigate without a smartphone. the streets were also extremely narrow and sidewalks nearly nonexistent. when a car drives by, pedestrians have to flatten themselves against the wall or step into the entryway of the nearest store.

Cusco narrow streets

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu seemed like a must since we were going to be in Peru anyway. we're glad we checked it off our list. while it may be blasphemous to say this, we probably wouldn't plan an entire vacation around a short visit to Machu Picchu. 

there are a couple options to visit Machu Picchu but the most popular choices seem to be the 1 day trip from Cusco or a longer 4 day hiking expedition. there are timed tickets to get inside the Machu Picchu gated sanctuary and 2 hours seemed to be plenty to go through every nook and cranny of the site.

the 1 day trip was quite exhausting, even though we booked an all-inclusive tour that planned every step for us. our day started at 4:40am and was followed by a 2 hour car ride, 1.5 hour train ride, and 30 minute bus ride. we arrived at Machu Picchu at around 10am, meandered around with our tour guide for 2 hours, then ate lunch and did the whole bus + train + car ride over again. despite the tour company organizing the trip to be as efficient as possible, there was still a lot of waiting around between modes of transportation.

Machu Picchu is undoubtedly beautiful and seeing the site in a photograph is nothing compared to seeing the real thing in person. but at the same time, we wouldn't be able to justify another 14 hours of traveling for a 2 hour experience.

the crib

we almost exclusively stay in Airbnbs for our travels but didn't find many options in Cusco with our requirements (read: laptop workspace).

so for such a short stay, we decided on a hotel. we forgot about the little pampering comforts of a hotel and thoroughly enjoyed them all: room service, packaged to-go breakfasts, "tea time" where tea and heated water pads are delivered, and housekeeping. we'd still pick an Airbnb over a hotel for longer trips, however, as we prefer having a proper living room and kitchen.

we stayed at Antigua Casona San Blas in Cusco. it has over 1,000 5-star reviews and for good reason. the boutique hotel is small but charming, and every person on their staff seemed to be experts in hospitality.

meals

we don't have many pictures of the food since we only had a couple meals in the city. however, tourists with picky appetites do not have to worry.

yes, there were some unfamiliar menu items like anticucho (beef heart skewers), guinea pig, and alpaca meat. but there are plenty of restaurants catering to Westerners, too.

this said, Ryan ordered a burger, assuming it was all-beef, only to bite into it and realize it was 100% alpaca. which is basically a llama. oh well. we ate room service and soup from the vegan place next door for the remainder of our short stay.

budget

our hotel in Cusco was $103 per night (all-inclusive of fees) and we'd stay there again in a heartbeat.

meals were $15 /each on average. there were many <$10 options for backpackers on a budget. we ordered room service a lot and Hideko went to a vegan restaurant next door (not pricey by US standards but pricey by Peru standards) all 3 days we were there.

here's a comparison of our New York City vs Cusco lifestyle.

rickshaw report

Cusco scored a 66 / 100 according to our Rubric.

Rickshaw Report Cusco Peru

we realize this score looks a bit harsh, and we don't intend to discourage anyone from visiting Machu Picchu. but we do suggest: top tier hotel, spending more time in Cusco itself, being open to constant street solicitation, and exploring more (museums, excursions, etc).