Located in the Peruvian Andes 3,400m above sea level and once the home to the ancient Inca civililisation, Cusco is now a major tourist hot-spot and a perfect base for visiting some of the many ruins surrounding the Peruvian province of the same name.
Personally I have been to Cusco a few times and I can say quite frankly that the majority of my time was spent with a rum and coke in hand scanning the bar for the ideal partner with hopes of once again being crowned beer pong champion (same old story). It was obviously time to try something a little different so, deciding to shy away from the party hostels I booked myself into a much quieter, less hangover inducing hostel just around the corner from the historic Plaza De Armas.
It was a good start and generally a good plan, but I would be lying if I was to tell you that this visit didn’t include any type of alcoholic activities, however I can honestly say that I accomplished enough to write you the following list of things to see in around the magical city of Cusco.
The San Pedro Market
If you like cheap and awesome this place is well…yeah…cheap and awesome. A bustling local market where you may find yourself buying a bunch of bananas whilst watching someone purchase a jar of pickled snakes. This certainly isn’t your everyday supermarket. Hard boiled quail eggs, roasted guinea pigs, buckets of donkey snouts, purple corn, pickled snakes and enough coca leaves to have you buzzing for a while, this place has to be seen to be believed.
Arriving anywhere between 7am and 5pm, the San Pedro Market also caters for the hungry backpacker in the mood for something fairly normal. A more than satisfying food court for the not-so-adventurous sandwich eater awaits anyone with a spare 6 Soles (less than $2USD). Egg, avocado and cheese was my most favoured combination and is sure to fill the most empty of stomachs.
In addition to selling an absolute smorgasbord of meat, there are also section dedicated to selling Andean art and textiles, so if you’re an art lover on a budget this area of the market is definitely worth a look.
Just around the corner from the sandwich section lies an absolute plethora of fresh juice stands. Pretty much any type of juice is available for nothing more than 5 soles. This, my friends, is a bargain and sure beats an $8 sugar filled Boost Juice back in Australia.
At a fraction of the cost of the local restaurant, this market is a kind of ‘eat at your own risk’ type deal, however sticking to meals without meat will keep you pretty safe. I personally am yet to have any unexpected trips to the toilet following my San Pedro visits so it definitely got two thumbs up from me.
The Sacred Valley
Of course everyone comes to Cusco on the way to the amazing Machu Picchu and I am not surprised – it is definitely the number one must see Inca ruin site in Peru.
Disappointingly many travelers don’t seem to bother with anything other than Machu Picchu in order to get their taste of Peruvian culture and tradition. The Sacred Valley is just a few moments away and it is one of the most important places of the Incas agricultural development. Breathtaking views along the road definitely make up for the bus seats that are unlikely to be chiropractor endorsed, however windy roads, amazing mountains and fierce rivers lead us to Maras Moray, an extraordinary Inca agricultural site.
Looking a little bit like a crazy person’s vision of an extravagant farm, I assure you there is an inspiring and very impressive idea behind these unusual circle terraces.
As you can imagine, being 3400m above sea level comes with its challenges when it comes to growing an type of hunger curing food, the proven theory is that the Incas were experimenting with altitude differences on their crops (mainly corn, more than one thousand types of potatoes and coca plants).
Amazingly every terrace had its very own micro climate for the sole purpose of observing which one in particular was the best for each crop. They also developed very complicated yet efficient watering systems, some of them still functioning till this very day.
Given this was built somewhere around the 12th century, the Incas were basically the rocket scientists of the ancient farming world!
Drive a little further into the Valley and you’ll be arriving at the very interesting salt mines of Salinas De Maras. I can vividly remember sometimes having to close my eyes due to the very narrow and steep road leading to the entrance, but then again I am a little pussy with a deep fear of heights.
Differing purities of salt are filtered out of more than two thousands pools with some possessing a high enough quality for cooking and others being used for salt baths and healing purposes.
Looking down the view could be described as a patchwork quilt with a hundred different shades of orange, brown, grey and white making for an awesome place to take pictures, jump around the pools and dip your fingers into the layers of salt.
If you find yourself screaming “God, this regular supermarket salt sucks!”
You can finally stop that screaming because freshly mined salt is on sale for around 10 soles ($3USD) per bag. Thank god for that, hey?
This tongue twister should also be on your list of places to see around Cusco.
Another amazing Inca ruin with hundreds of steep steps between you and the beautiful view waiting for you at the top, this place was an unexpected challenge. The unfortunate altitude positioning made each step a little painful and with the added bonus of having some type of gestational failure, I basically had no choice but to run up, take photos and then make a run for the toilet.
Although in some immense pain I still managed to take in the fact we were surrounded by mountains which seem to form a type of guarding wall around the small village, mysteriously shaped rocks and the most amazing view that, paired with an unfair altitude, took my breathe away.
Machu Picchu would obviously be included on this list, however I feel it deserves a post entirely for itself. Within the next few weeks I will detail my amazing voyage to the very top!