12 do’s and don’ts of visiting Cusco
12 do’s and don’ts of visiting Cusco
The cradle of the magnificent Incan Empire with Machu Picchu a mere train ride away, Cusco is one of South America’s biggest bucket list destinations.
This charming city in Peru is the place that every Inca once aspired to visit in a lifetime – and so should you.
Whether you’re coming here to explore its ruins, wander the colonial streets or study Spanish, we’ve put together the following list of
12 tips for visiting Cusco, our 12 do’s and don’ts..
- Do take it easy. You’ve just arrived in a beautiful new city, Machu Picchu is down the road and you want to rush out and explore, but take it easy the first few days. Cusco is tucked into the mountains at 3400m, so you will need to adjust to the altitude. Hydrate (no alcohol), eat small meals and don’t do anything too physical. If you’re feeling the effects of altitude sickness (or ‘soroche’), drink coca tea.
- Do people watch. Look up around you in Plaza de Armas, choose a balcony, pull up a chair and order a drink. There’s no better place to observe life than overlooking the main square. Watch tourists taking selfies, women in traditional dress with llamas in tow, shoe shine guys vying for business, sharply dressed police patrolling the streets and Inca king Pachacutec, who stands guard over the plaza from his fountain throne.
- Don’t take pictures of people without asking. You should follow this rule anywhere you go, but Cusco locals are particularly sensitive to this. If you do get the go-ahead to take a picture, be prepared to offer up a couple of coins in exchange.
- Do try the local food. Instead of just pointing your camera at that crispy street side guinea pig, eat it! Cusco has plenty of local food to try including ‘cuy’ (roasted guinea pig which can also be found in many restaurants), alpaca, chicharrones (pieces of pork deep-fried in lard) and ceviche, raw fish marinated in citrus juice. You can’t get the true flavour of a country without tasting its food.
- Do try out your Spanish with the locals. If you’re studying Spanish in Cusco, don’t be shy to use your newfound knowledge. Try to move beyond just ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’ when speaking with Cusquenans. They will appreciate your attempts to speak Spanish, even if you don’t always get it right, and you will feel more a part of the community.
- Don’t forget to get your picture taken with a pom pom-furnished llama in the middle of the city. Why not? This situation is hugely unlikely to arise in your life again! You can snap away for around 3 or 4 soles.
- Do haggle. Cusco is overflowing with colorful, enticing wares. Like in many other tourist towns, prices are hiked up, so don’t be scared to ask for a discount. But don’t haggle too hard – sometimes that saving of 5 soles won’t mean much to you, but it will to a vendor.
- Do buy a Boleto Turistico. This ticket is ideal if you plan to visit most of the sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. It costs 130 soles ($40 USD) and grants access to 16 attractions over a 10-day period. You can buy it your hostel, the tourist information point at Avenida El Sol 103, and selected tourist offices and travel agencies.
- Don’t expect things to be like they are at home. Cusco doesn’t always run like clockwork. You might have a meeting with someone and they are late (or running on ‘Peruvian time’). Or you might order a coffee and it comes after the third time you ask. Things will be different than what you are used to. Just relax and go with the flow.
- Do learn about Cusco’s history. Once the capital of the Incan empire, Cusco has a rich and fascinating past. One of the best ways to do this is with one of several free walking tours available around the city. While it is free, a tip is expected at the end.
- Don’t be lazy about safety. More police patrol Cusco than in the past, which has led to an improvement in security, but you still need to be vigilant. Use common sense and be careful when changing money on the streets, when exploring out of the way ruins, always keep your bag where you can see it and avoid walking alone at night. Keep a close eye on your gear especially during fiestas and in the more crowded markets where pickpockets will take advantage.
- Do pack for all seasons. Cusco can range from warm and very sunny during the day (shorts and flip-flop weather), to bone-shiveringly cold at night, to rainy, especially from December to March. Ensure you are equipped with basics like t-shirts and singlets, as well as thermals, jackets, a raincoat, a good pair of hiking boots and of course, your camera.
By Roberta Mancuso