Most people come to Cusco to see the remnants of history that lie in and around it. If you’re in to that sort of thing, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The city and its surrounding area have enough Inca-age stones to fill a hundred Peru Rail train cars and still have some to spare. If you want a peek into ancient times, the era before the Europeans broke on to the scene and altered the course of the Americas, you’ll find it there.
That’s not all that Cusco has to offer, though. Despite the hordes of camera-toting tour groups and hiking boot-clad foreigners, or perhaps even because of them, Cusco holds a lot of charm and beauty. The centre of the city is very walkable, and holds more quality restaurants than we came across during all of our time in Colombia combined. Viewpoints offer panoramas of strikingly orange clay tile-roofed buildings that stretch as far as the eye can see. The absence of modern glass and steel structures on the skyline lead you to imagine that you really could be a couple hundred years back in time.
As Cusqueños get squeezed out of their downtown by high end hotels and yet another tour office, they respond by trying any number of creative money making solutions. Women in traditional clothing sit at every corner selling everything from snacks to cell phone minutes. Llamas on leashes stand with their owners, waiting for their photo opp. Teenagers strum away at guitars on busy pedestrian streets, hoping for some coins to drop in to their case. Girls carry baby goats in costume, trying to entice tourists to pose for a picture. It’ll cost you, of course. Travellers, far more than I’ve seen anywhere else on our trip, are streaming in with full pockets, and these opportunists are hoping that some of the cash will trickle down to them.
I’m often turned off by places that seem overly tourist oriented, but somehow Cusco managed to keep me in its clutches. Even after five days, I wasn’t tired of walking down its narrow cobblestone streets, some of which are still partially intact from the Inca days, or taking in those orange roofs from above. If you look past the groups of guidebook-studiers and iPad picture takers, it’s pretty easy to get swept away by the mix of colonial-era cathedrals and Inca remnants that you’ll come across at every turn.