Peru Part V – Last day in Cusco

Bringing our Cusco portion of the trip to a close started with a pleasant, but ultimately unnecessary bus tour in the morning and spending some more time independently checking out some of the remaining sights.

Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco Store & Museum
Avenida Sol 603
Hours:
Monday-Saturday: 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Sunday: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

This was one of the sights at the top of my list coming to Cusco, but I may have hyped myself up a bit much.  Not to say it wasn’t interesting and a great value (the museum is free), I was just a bit underwhelmed.   The showroom is what you walk into when you first enter, so make your way to the back and the left to get to the museum exhibit.  It’s pretty small, even smaller than the coca museum, but the displays are very interesting and you do get a lot of information and textile examples.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see women on the showroom floor making the textiles on the loom.  The items in the showroom are very nice, but very expensive.  So unless you’re in the market for something specific, don’t go in there thinking you’ll be able to get just a nice souvenir.

Qurikancha
Pampa del Castillo at Plazoleta Santo Domingo
Hours:
Monday-Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Looming over the city of Cusco is the Qurikancha, an ancient Incan temple which was later turned into a Spanish church.  This place is another great deal at 10 soles and it’s very much worth hiring a guide for an additional 10 soles to give you a tour (the guides will be milling around the front wearing grey jackets).  The temple is a nice combination of ancient Incan structures displayed (still standing despite the numerous earthquakes due to its advanced design) and fine Spanish oil paintings depicting the standard religious scenes.  Under the field in front of Qurikancha is a museum housing more paintings, mummies, and relics (we didn’t visit this however).  Again, very few photograph opportunities are allowed here.

Mercado Central de San Pedro
Tupac Amaru

&

Cusco Artesian Market
Avenida El Sol and Av Tullumayo

A great place to find a souvenir or get a sense of the local culture is at the markets.  The Cusco Artesian Market is located near the bus stop and is mainly full of touristy items.  That being said, you can find some great textiles and cheap finds for gifts to bring back.  Walking up and down the vendors was surprisingly a pleasant experience.  Unlike the shitshow souqs in the Middle East, the vendors here are very friendly and respectful.  They’ll approach you and obviously ask if you were interested in seeing anything, but will leave you alone and drop back with a smile if you decline; much more polite and not pushy at all.

Now if you want to see something really crazy, check out the Mercado Central de San Pedro.  Not only will you have the usual offerings of vegetables, fresh juices, breads, and souvenir items like at the Cusco Artesian Market, but you’ll get to straight up see butchering of llama and alpaca (there was a dude with a f**king axe hacking away at the body of an alpaca or whatever.  I too frightened to take a picture of him).  The smell of blood definitely made my stomach turn when I first walked it, but the sensation did go away after a while.  Making sure that we weren’t just being nosy outsiders looking in, we started to chat up one of the llama head sellers and she was surprisingly very friendly and open to answering our questions.  Definitely a deceptively cool place once you get over how shady and dirty it looks.

La Cusquenita restaurant

Looking for a good local place to eat in Cusco, we asked our guide from the Machu Picchu trip for a recommendation and he said La Cusquenita was a great place to have a taste of what the locals eat.  I hate to say, it was not very good and I would not recommend going there.  Granted, you get a TON of food for the price, but the food was kinda gross.  Especially nasty was the cuy that they served which was dry and had a nauseating licorice spice.   I’m not going to even bother with the address and hours of operation, but if you’re near the Cusco Artesian Market and you see this place, I’d probably recommend trying somewhere else.   (In fairness, it seems like on TripAdvisor the majority of the folks do like it and had pretty good things to say about the dinner and show.  Since we were there at lunch, perhaps the dinner time experience is a bit better.)

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Peru Part IV – Pisco tasting and the Inca Museum

After our trek to Machu Picchu we spent another couple days in Cusco to take in what the charming little town had left to offer.  We came back to Cusco on Christmas Eve, and we discovered that our previous concerns about the possibility of nothing being open because of the holiday were completely unfounded.   Let me tell you  – don’t worry about things being closed when visiting Cusco during the Christmas holiday.  The place was hoppin’.  Crowds and crowds of people were in the streets, restaurants had patrons coming in and out all night, and people were setting off fireworks like it was a war-zone (This was no joke; through the night our hotel room would vibrate with what sounded like shotguns being fired on the street).  The Peruvians know how to party.

Here’s a rundown of a few more of the things we did in Cusco:

The four types of pisco: Aromatic, Non-Aromatic, Mosto Verde (partial fermentation), and Blend.
The four types of pisco: Aromatic, Non-Aromatic, Mosto Verde (partial fermentation), and Blend.

Museo del Pisco
Calle Santa Catalina 398 | corner with Calle San Agustin
Open everyday 11:30am – 1am
Kitchen is open from 12pm – 3pm & 6:30pm – 11pm
(with several plates available outside of hours)
info@museodelpisco.org

If there’s one thing you must try, it’s a pisco tasting at the Museo del Pisco.  The name is a bit of a misnomer, the place isn’t really that much of a museum and more of just a bar.  If you’ve never had pisco, this is a good place to become educated in the national beverage.  The menu boasts an overwhelming amount of pisco – much like a wine or whiskey list. I decided since I knew absolutely nothing about pisco, I went with the tasting (40 soles for one, 60 soles for two).

Pisco tasting with Sergui
Pisco tasting with Sergui

Now in the US, tastings usually come with 4 or 5 glasses and you sample a bunch of different types of beer, liquor, whatever.  When I ordered the tasting, little did I know it would come with a personal pisco sommelier.  My sommelier’s name was Sergui, a clean cut, well groomed/dressed Russian guy who gave me the complete rundown of pisco.  He was amazingly thorough, especially after my response to his question “What experience do you have with pisco?” was “I’ve had some pisco sours in college…”  He was extremely passionate about the liquor and clearly loved his work and answering questions, which made the experience that much more enjoyable.

Even if you don’t want to try it (because that s**t is strong), the Museo del Pisco has a variety of other beverages, a fun vibe, with good live music (to my delight they played Pearl Jam’s Even Flow during my tasting) and a friendly staff. This is a highly recommended visit.

Museo Inka
Cuesta del Almirante 103
Hours:
Monday – Friday : 8am – 6pm
Saturday and Holidays: 9am – 4pm

Museo de la Coca
Calle Palacio 122
Hours:
Monday – Sunday:  9am to 8pm.  (Free on Sunday)

Little Inca man.  Notice the bulge in his cheek?  He's chewing on coca leaves.
Little Inca man. Notice the bulge in his cheek? He’s chewing on coca leaves.

As far as actual museums go, we stopped by a couple.  Both were 10 soles, but one was way better of a value than the other.  I’ll start with the Museo de la Coca (Not to be confused with the Choco Museo).  We only really went to this museum because the restaurant we wanted to have lunch at wasn’t open yet and they were offering free visits for the holiday (it’s normally 10 soles).  It’s a neat little museum that provides a nice look at the history of coca and its cultural impact.  You could probably do the museum in an hour or so if you take in each display, and I actually really enjoyed reading the mythical history of how coca became a part of Inca culture.  I wouldn’t say this place is a must-see, but in the end, if you really want to visit it and you’re in the area, 10 soles really isn’t that expensive.

However, if you compare it with what 10 soles will get you at the Museo Inka, you’ll see the drastic difference.  Museo Inka at first glance really isn’t anything to write home about.  In fact, when you first walk in and look at the first few exhibits, the initial reaction will be, “Well this place is an effing rip-off”.  Don’t let the first couple of rooms fool you.  Once you head up to the second floor, the museum is way nicer and jam packed full of amazing artifacts.  The museum walks you through the history of Peru with displays containing Peruvian tools, pottery, textiles, ceremonial garb, weapons and gold relics.  The one really cool highlight is a burial chamber display featuring several mummies. If the weather is nice, the impressive courtyard is a nice place to relax a bit as well.  Unfortunately, like a lot of museums in the world, they don’t allow photography and I usually respect that request, so no pictures (sorry).

Peru Part I

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope you all had a festive holiday.  I for one had a great vacation with a trip to beautiful Peru.  It was certainly a whirlwind trip consisting of 10 days of hiking, sightseeing, trying new foods and dealing with unique travel issues such as altitude sickness.  And the Peruvian people are amazingly friendly and down to earth.  We’ve got lots to cover so let’s begin.

Our first night was a quick stop in Lima with an early flight the next morning to Cusco.  Getting a cab from the airport is surprisingly simple – the cabs don’t have meters so you can negotiate a charge in advance with basic rates on billboards throughout the terminal.  We’ll go over Lima later on since we spent time in the city at the end of the trip, but I’ll say this one point – our first night did not make a good first impression.  Admittedly, we stayed in an area near the airport because of the early morning flight, so it wasn’t exactly tourist friendly.  But the hostel we stayed in was a little dingy and the surrounding area made me feel like you’re asking to get mugged/raped/kidnapped/take your violent crime pick by taking one step outside.

Regardless, we survived the night and made our way to Cusco, a charming little city high up in the mountains that acts as a starting off point for those who are traveling to Machu Picchu.  You can spend a good few days in Cusco, and you should because the first day in Cusco should be for rest.  The altitude is no joke, and there’s a good chance you’ll experience some form of altitude sickness.  The sickness can range from none at all (for the lucky ones) to puking your guts out all day.  For me, I had a headache, a little dizziness, and my fingers became a little numb.  This discomfort lasted about a day.  So if you’re going to visit, my advice would be to plan a good 24-hours to acclimate.

The weather in Cusco was also pretty hard to predict, in that it could rain at any point (weather.com is pretty useless saying that there’s a 50% chance of rain all the time).  So you have to pack accordingly; keep an umbrella or poncho with you.  Since we had a day in Cusco before our trek out to Machu Picchu, we explored a little bit of the city.  Here’s a rundown of where we stayed and what we saw on Day 1.

Los Aticos Hostel
Calle Quera 253
Cusco, Peru
Phone:+51 84 231710
info@losaticos.com

I would highly recommend staying at the Los Aticos Hostel if you visit Cusco.  The hostel is located very close to the main Plaza de Armas and is within walking distance to most of the sights in the city.  The rooms are clean and have a “cabin” feel.  With the raining coming down it felt like we were camping.  Our room was two floors, with the beds upstairs and a living area/kitchen/bathroom downstairs.  It was a little chilly upstairs, but they provide space heaters which warmed the room up a bit (but you do need to give them some time to heat up).  There is also complimentary breakfast, a laundry machine for guest use, fast WiFi, and they do sell oxygen tanks at the front desk.

Los Toldos
Calle Almagro 171
Cusco 5184, Peru

We stopped by this Peruvian chain for lunch since it was near our hostel and it did not disappoint.  The 1/4 chicken was cooked to perfection – juicy and flavorful, the meat fell right off the bone.  The Washington, D.C. area has several Peruvian chicken joints, and it’s clear that they are trying to mimic what this place does with excellence.  The platter comes with four sauces, which I believe were variations of ketchup, mustard, some green spicy sauce, and a white ranch sauce (maybe?).  The platter also came with crispy french fries and access to the salad bar.  I also took this opportunity to try Inca Kola for the first time, a radioactive looking soda that tastes like cotton candy.  The restaurant is reasonably priced as well.

Choco Museo
Calle Garcilaso 210
Cusco, Peru
Hours: 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM every day

This free museum is actually a branch of the Choco Museo in Lima, but is still well worth the visit.  It’s a great place to relax if you’re trying to get a rest from the altitude.  You get a little tour of the store and there is a fair amount of exhibit reading to be had.  For those that want to partake in a chocolate making class, you can do so for 70 soles (around $25).  If you don’t want to take the two hour class, sample some of their chocolate in the cafe.  Give the Iced Chocolate drink a try.  It. Is. Awesome.

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